When hundreds of thousands of Italian women and men took to the streets on Feb. 13, they weren’t just protesting Prime Minister Berlusconi’s alleged dalliance with a 17-year-old Moroccan dancer. They were rallying against a deep-seated discrimination in Italy’s culture that puts women at an economic disadvantage.
In the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap report for 2010, Italy ranked 74th out of the 134 countries surveyed-33 places below Kazakhstan, and down two spots since 2009. The annual rating assesses how resources are divided between the sexes in work, politics, education and health. Since Berlusconi entered politics in 1994, he’s made sexism an overt part of Italy’s political culture. His cabinet includes former showgirls, and his three TV networks feature plenty of scantily clad women.
But Annamaria Simonazzi, a professor at Rome’s university, told The New York Times the real problem is his policies put Italian women in a dilemma: they can either have children and remain housewives, or become lifelong workers. In terms of childcare, Berlusconi’s welfare minister believes the onus lies on grandparents, but women must care for the elderly. The rally against sexism featured bubble-gum-pink posters, a sign of how far Italy has to go in terms of gender equality.