Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Italy Faces a Reckoning

| Thu, 11/23/2023 - 02:00
candlelit vigil
Candlelit vigils and more vigorous protests took place across Italy after the discovery of the body of Giulia Cecchettin, 22 / Photo: Lewis Tse via Shutterstock

Italian events and initiatives to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which falls on November 25, are expected to be particularly loaded this year after the discovery over the weekend of the body of Giulia Cecchettin, a 22-year-old student from Veneto alleged to have been murdered by her ex-boyfriend, the 21-year-old Filippo Turetta, in retaliation for her breakup with him.

The case, which has dominated Italian news reports for weeks, has prompted national outrage and calls for more concrete action in the fight for the elimination of violence against women and gender minorities in Italy. 

The prominent grassroots feminist organization Non Una di Meno ( “Not One Less”) has been involved with many of the protests and processions that have taken place in the past few days across Italy in the wake of the Cecchettin case, and is preparing for nonpartisan displays of “collective indignation and strength” on November 25. Main assemblies will be headquartered in Rome and Messina, but splinter initiatives are expected across the country. 

A watershed moment?

As details of Giulia Cecchettin’s murder and Turetta’s arrest have begun to emerge, both government-sanctioned and grassroots initiatives calling for better protections of women, better education around healthy relational and sexual dynamics and harsher punishments for violent offenders have been taking place across Italy. 

After Turetta’s arrest in Germany on Sunday — the suspect had been on the run since November 11 — the Italian Ministry of Education invited Italian schools to observe a moment of silence for Giulia and for “all women victims of violence” in their classrooms on Tuesday, November 21. 

Many students and educators pushed back and instead orchestrated “moments of noise,” beating on desks, whistling, shouting through megaphones and more. 

The “moment of noise” extended inside Palazzo Giustiniani in Rome, the official residence of the President of the Senate. Marches with the same theme were held across many Italian cities.

These national “moments of noise” followed a wave of more solemn torchlit processions and vigils held on Sunday in many towns across Italy, including in Giulia’s hometown of Vigonovo.

Why all the action around this particular case?

The national foment prompted by the Giulia Cecchettin case is at least in part due to the mobilizing energy of Giulia’s 24-year-old sister Elena, who has been a prominent Italian media presence since the days when Giulia and Turetta went missing and has used the spotlight to draw attention to larger issues.

In a live appearance on the Mediaset program Dritto e rovescio just after Turetta’s arrest on Sunday, Elena pushed back against characterizations of her sister’s ex-boyfriend as an isolated case and spoke of how everyday sexism in Italy lays the groundwork for abuse and fatal violence. Suggesting that calling Turetta a “monster” was misguided, Elena argued that he instead represents “a healthy son of a patriarchal society steeped in rape culture [...] in that set of actions aimed at restricting women’s freedom.”

In previous interviews, Elena had spoken of her own disapproval of Turetta’s possessiveness toward her sister but said she never imagined that he would hurt her. Other family members and friends of Giulia reportedly shared her concerns.

On Dritto e rovescio, Elena went on to urge men to speak out against entrenched sexism by “[calling] out the friend who catcalls passersby, [calling] out the colleague who checks his girlfriend’s phone. [You men] have to stop accommodating these behaviors that may seem like trivialities, but are the preludes to femicide.”

The young woman’s on-air remarks were met with both solidarity and pushback from other commentators on the show. Dissenting voices like the journalist Maurizio Belpietro, founder of the right-leaning newspaper La Verità, said that Turetta was an “assassin” rather than an emblem of patriarchy or rape culture, and that femicide, while a problem in Italy, was a larger issue in other European countries.

Violence against women in Italy: the basics

The latest homicide data from the Italian Ministry of the Interior indicate that between January and November 19, 2023, 106 women were murdered in Italy (an average of roughly one every three days). Of these, 87 were murdered in domestic or familial settings, and 55 of them at the hands of their current or former intimate partners. 

While the overall number of female victims has decreased nominally when compared to the same period in 2022, the percentage of crimes committed by partners or ex-partners has risen slightly, as have the female victims in these scenarios.

Elena Biaggioni, vice president of the national association Di.R.E (Donne in Rete Contro la Violenza), told Euronews back in September that the situation has been “stagnant” for years, but that the organization had seen “an increase in the more violent cases.”

Biaggioni’s comments came in response to another recent high-profile femicide, the case of Giulia Tramontano, a 29-year-old woman who was seven months pregnant when her boyfriend Alessandro Impagnatiello murdered her after she learned of his infidelity. 

Commentators, activists and leaders including Biaggioni have pointed to an enduring culture of Italian machismo and misogyny that they suggest has contributed to instances of gender-based violence being treated as isolated cases rather than symptomatic of structural issues. 

With the near-constant coverage of the Cecchettin case as a backdrop, some Italian outlets have expanded on Elena Cecchettin’s words about the “sliding scale of mini-steps that lead to femicide as their climax” by calling attention to perceived misogynistic attitudes among Italian adolescents. On Monday, major newspapers including Repubblica and La Stampa shared a TikTok video by @theturistzz, a pair of Rome-based teenagers who surveyed a series of young men in a mall about whether they would “allow” their girlfriends to go out dancing alone or with friends. Nearly all of them responded “no” or spoke of “not trusting” the young women and their friends.

The current outlook

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni released a statement on X (formerly Twitter) reiterating her government’s commitment to protecting women after the events of the weekend. “Every single woman killed because she is ‘guilty’ of being free is an aberration that cannot be tolerated and that pushes me to continue on the path to stop this barbarism,” Meloni wrote. 

Meloni went on to note that a series of anti-violence measures (drafted by Family and Equal Opportunities Minister Eugenia Roccella) and unanimously greenlit by the lower house Chamber late last month would reach the Senate floor on Wednesday, November 22. The upper house Senate yesterday unanimously passed the measures, which include streamlining the procedure for obtaining restraining orders and adding new support for emergency hotlines, into law.

Meloni’s government has faced criticism for its approach to gender-based violence in the past. While government spending on the issue has increased over the last decade, efforts have mostly concentrated on protections for women who have already experienced violence rather than cultural prevention and education, according to a report by ActionAid first cited in The New York Times. Meloni’s government had previously slashed funding for preventive measures — to a cumulative €5 million compared to her predecessor Mario Draghi’s €17 million, according to Wired Italia.

But on Wednesday, Education Minister Giuseppe Valditara announced more details of a new €15 million prevention-oriented scheme for Italian high schools, Educare alle relazioni (Educating in Relationship), which had been under preparation since late August.

The initiative, the first of its kind in Italian schools, will address issues of everyday sexism, machismo, and psychological and physical violence in a discussion-group format moderated by teachers trained in the subject matter. 

At the presentation, Valditara described the project as a “big mobilization” and said that it took cues from “events last summer in Palermo and Caivano, and from a strong desire to say ‘enough is enough’ to the macho culture that continues to pollute the country.” 

But critics have noted that the educational sessions would run for a maximum of 30 hours total at each school, outside of normal scholastic hours and on an optional basis to start, though Valditara has said that the programming could be expanded if implemented successfully.