THE TELEGRAPH, 30.05.2013
Article by Marta Cooper
Italy has just ratified a European treaty which seeks to combat violence against women. It's a small step in the right direction for a country battling a plague of femicides and deeply entrenched sexism, writes Marta Cooper.
Deep in Italy’s southern Calabria region, the town of Corigliano Calabro laid to rest one of its residents on Tuesday. Last Friday, just weeks short of her 16th birthday, Fabiana Luzzi was allegedly stabbed repeatedly, doused with petrol and set alight by her boyfriend.
As locals mourned Fabiana’s death, in Rome Italy’s Chamber of Deputies was ratifying the Council of Europe Istanbul convention, a treaty aimed at combating and preventing violence against women. The Convention stipulates: “It is the obligation of the state to fully address it in all its forms and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Failure to do so would make it the responsibility of the state.”
Fabiana’s horrifying murder has shocked a country which is becoming increasingly aware of its plague of femminicidio (femicide). Figures from helpline Telefono Rosa confirmed by Italy’s national statistics body, Istat,show that a woman in Italy was killed every two days in 2012, compared to every three days in 2011. Furthermore, 47 women were victims of ‘attempted femicide’ last year, according to the latest research from Bologna-based women’s organisation Casa delle Donne.
Efforts are being made to put the issue on the national agenda. In her inaugural speech in March, Chamber of Deputies speaker Laura Boldrini pledged to “take charge of the humiliation of women suffering violence masquerading as love".
But in order to really “take charge”, Italy has a bitter pill to swallow first. As Barbie Latza Nadeau writes in this excellent piece, Italy is beset by “a serious cultural flaw that somehow enables Italian men to believe women are dispensable.” It is still a deeply chauvinist and sexist society. Over the past two decades misogynistic perceptions of women have been reinforced by the mass media, with private television channels owned by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and state-owned broadcasters regularly casting women as showgirls.
A report by the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, also makes for a jarring read. Citing the work of lawyer Barbara Spinelli, Manjoo notes that among the causes leading to femicide are “honour, men’s unemployment and jealousy by the perpetrator”. Consider, too, that it was only in 1981 that provisions in Italy’s penal code which allowed for a reduced penalty for those found guilty of killing their spouse, daughter or sister to defend the ‘honour’ of the family were repealed.
This week’s vote will not fix entrenched attitudes in a culture in which women have for so long been solely considered either mothers or lovers. The vote now needs to be repeated in Italy’s Senate in order to officially pass, and the convention itself needs the ratification of at least 10 countries to take effect (Italy is the fifth nation to ratify the treaty). The onus is now on the Italian government to follow through with the convention’s provisions: it can no longer rely on mere rhetoric.
Mourning is an intense, slow and long affair in Italy, and now is perhaps a crass moment to show any signs of celebration. But, amid the grief for one teenage girl whose life was so brutally cut short, it is of some reassurance that steps are finally being made to ensure no other girl or woman should face the same fate as Fabiana.