Thousands join marches for respect and values in country with gender gap worse than Kazakhstan's
John Hooper in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 13 February 2011 19.21 GMT
Geppi Calcara, a Sicilian archivist, was there with her friend and 11-year-old daughter "because we're tired of our children living in a society of non-values", she said. "We find it really difficult to bring up our children with the values they're learning."
Behind her, the Piazza del Popolo in Rome was filling up with tens of thousands of women, and many men who had arrived with their wives or girlfriends.
"There are lots of us," said Calcara. "But we're not visible. The privately-owned TV channels, which belong to [Silvio] Berlusconi, and all but one of the [state-owned] RAI channels, manipulate the news. So people know nothing, or only half, of what is happening."
On Sunday, Italians dismayed by the prime minister and his antics got a chance to show their feelings in a way that even his television network will find difficult to ignore. Thousands of them assembled in piazzas from the foothills of the Alps to the tip of Sicily and in cities from Auckland to Zurich.
"We're more than a million across the world," the actor Angela Finocchiaro told the crowd in the Piazza del Popolo. And though that claim may be disputed, there was plenty of evidence to suggest the numbers ran to several hundreds of thousands.
The posters for the demonstration proclaimed it was being held in support of "a country that respects women". That the need should be felt for such a protest in Europe, 11 years into the 21st century and several decades after Italy spawned one of the continent's most lively feminist movements is, in part at least, evidence of the impact of Berlusconi and his media empire. Last week, the 74-year-old prime minister learned that prosecutors had asked for his indictment on charges of paying an underage sex worker and abusing his official position when she was arrested. He denies any wrongdoing.
His Mediaset network has for years thrived on supplying the public with schedules that are long on glitzy variety programmes and quiz shows that feature so-called veline – young, pretty women in scanty costumes whose most demanding duty in most cases is to hold up a score card.
But RAI too uses veline, and both networks reflect attitudes in society as much as create them. The posters for the demonstration were printed on a pink background without anyone apparently thinking that was patronising.
Unlike Spain, Italy has not been altered by the change in relations between the sexes, so the words for positions of authority – chief, minister, lawyer and so on – have no have feminine forms.
According to the World Economic Forum's latest global gender gap report, Italy ranked 74th out of 134 countries surveyed — 33 places below Kazakhstan. It scored particularly badly on economic participation and opportunity. Less than half of Italian women have a job and the notion that they should not return to paid work after having a child is still widespread.
Leaked documents from the inquiry into Berlusconi's private life are shot through with indications that aspiring showgirls in Italy are expected to give sexual favours. One claims to have been told by a talent scout who is close to the prime minister that she will have to make "sacrifices" if she wants to get ahead.
Romanian-born Liliana Popa, who married an Italian and teaches French at a Rome school, said she had come to the demonstration to protest at "the spread of a warped idea of relations between men and women. I want a society in which women are judged on merit and not on their degree of availability to men."
Other protesters had a simpler agenda. Carola D'Angelo, a sports events organiser, said: "I'm fed up with this government."