Europe, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

Q&A: Italian Women At A Loss

Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli interview IVANKA CORTI, former president of the CEDAW Committee

ROME, Oct 21 2009 (IPS) - On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Italy is far from attaining gender equality.

“I think that something is changing…however, the Convention is still not very well known in Italy, and what has been ratified hasn’t been implemented yet,” says Ivanka Corti, former president of the CEDAW Committee.

According to the latest global gap report index, in Europe only the Czech Republic, Romania, Greece, Cyprus and Malta have bigger gender gaps than Italy. Italy ranks 67 among the 130 countries in the index.

CEDAW was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979, and Italy ratified it in 1985. Italian women are 51.4 percent of the population and 55.8 percent of university students, but their political and economic power is way below equality.

Politics shows the biggest gap, but discrimination can also be found in the workplace, according to the report Education at a Glance 2009, published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). According to the report, having a university degree pays off 2.36 times as much for men than for women in Italy. The average for the OECD, which includes 30 of the most developed countries, is 1.4.

A quarter of a century after signing the Convention, Italy is worse off than, say, Uganda (ranked 43) or Lesotho (16).

In its combined fourth and fifth report on Italy published in 2004, the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women points to “low participation of women in public and political life, (and) the lack of programmes to combat stereotypes through the formal education system and to encourage men to undertake their fair share of domestic responsibilities.”

The CEDAW Committee, whose main responsibility is to support implementation of the convection, has called on Italy “to adopt a large-scale, comprehensive and coordinated programme to combat the widespread acceptance of stereotypical roles of men and women.”

It has also recommended that “the media and advertising agencies be specifically targeted and encouraged to project an image of women as equal partners in all spheres of life and that concerted efforts be made to change the perception of women as sex objects, and primarily responsible for child- rearing.”

So what has been done, and what remains to be done? IPS talks to Ivanka Corti -who was in the CEDAW Committee for 16 years, four of them as chair – about the status of women in Italy.

IPS: What do you think about female quotas? IVANKA CORTI: I totally agree with quotas. I am in favour of them as temporary measures, as Article 4 of the CEDAW states. As many examples show, quotas are absolutely necessary to gain equality in the labour and public sectors. Scandinavian countries are the clearest examples of how women have reached equality in all sectors (through quotas). So, they should be applied to both politics and labour markets.

IPS: Why is the salary gap for educated women in Italy so wide? IC: This situation is caused by several factors that are not favourable to women, including the idea that women cannot possibly be as productive as men since they may get pregnant. This idea is profoundly erroneous, but still pervasive.

IPS: What are the stereotypes about women in Italy? IC: I must open a parenthesis. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee and the convention that Italy has signed without reservations – and I underline “without reservations” – are not being implemented.

In Italy nobody pays attention to this document of international regulation. I doubt that our Parliamentarians know this convention has been ratified at all. In many Western countries, the report that is sent to the CEDAW Committee is discussed first in the Parliament. This has not been the case in Italy, ever.

I don’t see many changes made either after the last recommendations were published in 2005. The recommendations of the CEDAW Committee must be published with the maximum publicity, something that I have not seen here. Not even the Ministry for Equality acknowledged it.

It is quite unfortunate, especially if you think that, in comparison, many developing countries grant a great importance to the document, which is published widely and produces new legislation.

IPS: How do you change the situation in Italy? IC: To change it is to change politics, and I am afraid Italian politics are very sexist.

Italy has gone backwards. The contribution of women to culture and development towards modernity has been undervalued. And thanks to the media, the idea of a woman who is attracted to power, to money, who values her beauty more than her intelligence and professional capacity, persists. I am shocked at the fact that there was almost no coverage of the predominance of women at this year’s Nobel Prizes, while Italians are more interested in the elections of Miss Italia.

IPS: What is the main factor that provokes discrimination in Italy? IC: It depends on many factors: history, culture, politics, media and religion. Religion has in Italy a very important role, because of the presence of the Vatican, which has enormous influence in politics and in many issues related to women.

IPS: Some experts say that fighting against discrimination is not a question of money, but of will. In fact some countries in Africa, including Rwanda and Liberia, and other regions, such as the Philippines, seem to confirm this. Do you agree? IC: Based on my 16-year experience in the CEDAW Committee, I very much agree. Change has come about in places where there was political will, not necessarily money. Also, where there is a strong movement of women, who put pressure on the political institutions, the process is faster.

A majority of female politicians could change the situation. But why do we have so few women in Italian politics? Spain was more backwards than Italy in the 70s and 80s, but has surpassed Italy in all aspects. Can you imagine a pregnant female defence minister reviewing the troops in Italy?

In Italy we have a female environment minister. I haven’t seen that she has engaged other women, who are more responsive to the environmental problems. The women in the government have no “gender sensitive” policies at all. There are two sides of this problem: the access to power and the attitudes inside these offices.

IPS: Could different use of media change the situation? IC: You cannot regulate what media disseminate, because that would be limiting press freedom. But there is the problem of a culture that caricatures women. We must change the stereotypes. When this stereotype emerged, there weren’t so many women in the labour market, in the scientific field; at university 30 years ago there were very few women, today they are the majority. Nothing justifies the persistence of these stereotypes.

IPS: What has changed in Italy since the introduction of Article 51 of the Constitution? And what about CEDAW Committee’s recommendations? IC: A lot has been changed. The constitution was born many years before, and it is evident that many laws in favour of women have passed since. When the constitution was adopted, there was no divorce, abortion or equality in the labour market laws. The law is very comprehensive; what is missing is implementation. A true implementation of the Convention is lacking too.

As far as politics is concerned, there is strong resistance in Italy. It is really a fight for power. This is, though, an extended phenomenon, with few exceptions in the world. When I think of Spain, though, I feel envious. When we were passing laws in favour of women here, they had a dictatorship; and today women and men sit together in Parliament, government and in all sectors of public responsibility on equal terms.

True democracy is not possible if women are excluded.

*Miren Gutierrez is IPS editor-in-chief.

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