We sat yesterday on the beach with three 19 year old girls and a couple of Italian mothers and as we ate our focaccia I told them about the book by Eric Newby I was reading (Amazon.it launched Kindle this week so they were interested to see it). I said how several things he writes about in the north of Italy seem true down here even today and one critical one was the role of women as perceived at least by Italian men. These three girls intend to go to university one to be a pharmacist, one a lawyer and one not sure yet what to study. It seemed clear in talking to them that this generation certainly in Puglia will be the one to change society as we know it at the moment . Their mothers had married early and had been expected to leave their studies to become homemakers and then mothers. This was not going to happen to them they said a boy would wait or no marriage.
Italy has the lowest number of women in the workplace in all on the OECD countries at below 45% and that is all Italy the south I would imagine is way way below that figure. If you took out traditional roles like nursing and teaching I dread to think what that number would be. Women teachers are often forced to sign letters of resignation with blank dates in case they fall pregnant in order to land a job . Family and social pressure is so enormous that the women then stays at home to bring up the children rather than re-enter the workforce.
Sexism is huge here led by a media that sees women in the role of show girls and I have posted before about the TV programmes during primetime . It didn’t help having Silvio Berlusconi and his treatment of women as play things at bunga bunga parties nor the fact that he controls most of the TV and newspapers.
The area both mothers and daughters were really concerned about as we sat on the beach was domestic violence not I hasten to add from any personal experience but because they all felt that women were finally becoming more assertive and men unable to handle it were lashing out.
One women was killed in a domestic dispute every two days in Italy in 2012 and that figure is growing each year. It is a horrifying statistic. Italy also has a crime of passion law so sentences are not always that long. There have been calls for a compulsory life sentence for people that commit femminicidio as it is called here, killing women for being women. However the crisi and the struggle just to hold a parliament together has back burnered it again.
Politicians talk of change and blame schools for the lack of any form of sex education and a traditional approach to gender roles etc and the women on the beach yesterday echoed some of that. The mothers though probably need to do a little soul searching as well. 43% of housewives voted for Berlusconi and those mothers with both sons and daughters need to make sure that both sexes understand how life is changing.
Italian women are going to need to become more forceful and the State is going to have to become more supportive of that. There are more women in both houses than ever before and Laura Boldrini was in March chosen as the speaker of Italy’s chamber of deputies, and during her inaugural speech received a standing ovation for pledging to “take charge of the humiliation of women suffering violence masquerading as love”.
When at my local bar the shout” birra Angela”, “benzina Angela” goes up and Angela says come to the bar and get it yourself we will know things are on the up for women here in Puglia.
I remember on being posted to Washington D.C. in 1977 first having to meet with Human Resources in New york where as a Brit I was briefed as to what was and was not acceptable workplace behaviour in an office where half the workforce was women. It was they said very different to the UK. I had come from UK sales where there were just 2 women then in a sales force of 65. In D.C. there were three out of six of us. I quickly realised that the women were far better at the job than we men were. A few months after a new Area Manager East Coast USA was appointed from London. Mr. Pickering was a public school educated, university blue Brit who maybe missed out on the HR interview. On his first day he strode into the office and turned to Janet his P.A. and said coffee , cream, two sugars and disappeared into his office. We waited for her explosion. However she calmly tapped on the door went in and said come with me. A surprised Pickering followed her to the coffee room. Coffee machine she said, fridge with milk, sugar in bowl. I don’t do coffee I do your work. When you want coffee you get it yourself and if you’re passing my desk ask me what I would like. I will do the same when I go.
As I sat in the bar last night and watched the owners son at 6 years old screaming at the top of his voice because he was not the centre of attention, I thought how different his life is going to be to that of his father and grandfather and therefore how different Puglia will be in 15-20 years time. But with that murder count thank God.