By Erin Byrnes
Photos by Erin Byrnes
When protestors around the world gathered last Sunday to call for Silvio Berlusconi to step down, they were demanding an end to the oppression of women in Italy. Over a million women in Rome, Milan and other European cities mobilized under the manifesto of “Se non, ora quando?” or “If not now, then when?”
In solidarity with the women of Italy, a small group of protesters gathered outside the Italian Consulate in downtown Toronto. The determined group stood in the drizzle of a bright grey Sunday to demand a better future for Italian women. Drivers responded to a neon pink Bristol board by “honking against Berlusconi,” as they made their way down Beverly Street past the large, yellow brick embassy. Protestors hung spray-painted sheets on the black, wrought, iron fence that said “If not now, then when?”
Their signs were not removed until the next day.
Berlusconi and his scandals
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is in his third term and says he has no intention of stepping down in the wake of his latest sex scandal. Berlusconi has offended people not only with his actions but also with his defenses. Responding to a 2009 accusation that he paid prostitutes, Berlusconi replied that, “I never understood where the satisfaction is when you’re missing the pleasure of conquest.”
On February 9th, a file was brought to a judge to indict Berlusconi on charges of paying a minor for sex and abusing his power by having the same minor released from jail on unrelated charges. Nightclub dancer and Moroccan runaway, Karima el-Mahroug was 17 at the time that Berlusconi was paying her to attend his infamously lurid bunga bunga parties and spend the night. “Better to be fond of beautiful girls than gay,” Berlusconi remarked last year in regard to his sex scandals.
“This is no longer bearable,” say protesters who distributed handouts in front of the Italian Embassy. They say that women in Italy work inside and outside of the home, try to find employment, care for and maintain family and social networks, engage in trade unions and other organizations and volunteer to create a better Italy. The hand out explains:
“These many-faceted and important life experiences are being overshadowed by the image of women constantly and indecently represented as bare of objects of sexual exchange, in newspapers, advertisements and television programs.”
The billionaire Prime Minister has a near monopoly over the Italian media and this empire dictates that there are few ways for women in Italy to get ahead.
The idea Italian woman – as portrayed by the media…
Consuela Marano is one of a group of friends who organized Sunday’s protest and she says that the birth of her daughter Marta helped her to decide to leave Italy when the child was only 9 months old. “When you shape a generation through the media, that’s what they see as normal.” She says that the Italian media is dominated by women in bikinis and that she does not like that idea that Canadians may see Italian women as being promiscuous or empty-headed.
A man who would only go by Tony, says “In Italy men dominate. Period.” He pauses for a second. “Nothing wrong with that.” “They say that they are independent, but that is hogwash- they are the first ones to exploit themselves.” Tony says that his wife used to work for the Berlusconi dominated media and that in order to get ahead, she had to profess allegiance for a leader she despised. He says “If he (Berlusconi,) has just invited me to his bunga bunga parties, with that girl, I would be happy. I would not be here (at the protest) right now.”
Italy was ranked 74th out of 134 countries in a report on gender equality produced by the World Economic Forum 2010 Global Gender Gap Report. Women in Italy are generally more educated than men, however less than half are able to find employment. In terms of equal opportunity for economic participation and opportunity, Italy comes in with a dismal ranking of 97th. In every category except for education, women fare poorly in terms of wage parity, labour participation and leadership opportunities. Italy ranks far below any other European country in regard to gender equality and Berlusconi has advised women who want financial stability to find a wealthy boyfriend.
“Are we out of our minds?” Marano asks, adding that many people are leaving Italy because they do not want to live under the rule and influence of Berlusconi. “He’s not representing me for sure!”
Consuela Marano’s daughter is now 17. Marta Canneri says that she is different from the friends she visits every summer in Italy. “There is just a different idea of women in general- they are objectified and they don’t see themselves as smart ….” She says that women in Italy are objectified and that all of her friends want to be Velines when they are older.
In Italy, young girls aspire to be Velines- a word that translates roughly as tissue or flimsy papers. Velines are showgirls, who appear in very revealing costumes to entertain viewers on everything from pageants to the nightly news. Berlusconi’s media empire differs little from his cabinet in that men dominate it and the women present are showgirls. The minister of equal opportunity is Mara Carfagna, a veline and former topless model.
Berlusconi is no stranger to the courts, despite his attempts and threats to change laws, declare that he had immunity or threaten to sue. He has faced trials on charges including embezzlement, bribery, false accounting, tax evasion and mafia collusion.
Marano is adamant that Berlusconi has gotten away with too much and is not held accountable for his actions. “People don’t say anything… we are accepting everything.” She says that it is time for women “who don’t scream their outrage,” to stand up and demand better.
On Tuesday, the Judge accepted the indictment and Berlusconi was officially charged with the crimes. He will go on trial on April 6th. The three judges who will preside over the trial are all women.