Gender-related violence in Italy

According to recent data[1] collected in 2014 by ISTAT, the Italian National Statistic Institute, 31.5% of women between 16 and 70 years of age have been victim to sexual or physical violence, mostly occurring at the hands of current or former partners. The phenomenon became so frequent in Italy that it required the introduction of a neologism in the Italian language, femminicidio[2].

Italian society has traditionally been hetero- and male-centered, where the patriarch dominates over other members of the family. This ideology even strengthened with the rise of feminist movements, as men felt the need to preserve the supremacy of the male. A tendency to celebrate and exacerbate attributes traditionally considered masculine, such as courage, physical strength, vocation to power, and readiness to action profoundly shaped culture. This phenomenon took the name of virilism,[3]and was absorbed by the fascist propaganda that shaped Italian politics and history during a great part of the 20th century. Additionally, the enduring influence of the Catholic Church on state affairs has also played a significant role in influencing relations between genders; thus, it is not surprising that only after the 1970s reforms, law finally attributed moral and juridical equality to both spouses. The reforms also addressed the abolition of reparation marriages in the case of rape of a minor and the offense to honor as an extenuating circumstance for the murder of a woman who engaged in an extramarital affair.

The combination of these factors hindered the development of Italian feminism, which today occurs in a distorted and limited fashion. While it seemingly advocates universally for women’s rights, in practice it largely targets mothers and wives who work inside or outside the family, complying with conservative criteria about family life, parenthood, and sexuality. Consequently, it fails at empowering women, resulting in a generation of females who superficially appear progressive in terms of academic and career achievements, but who still must respond to certain social and cultural expectations when it comes to their lifestyle, sexual freedom, and behaviour in public.

A closer look at the cultural and social background of Italy suggests that the issue needs to be tackled from its roots. As a young Italian woman, I see the footprint of this cultural and social structure reflecting on aspects of my behaviour via unconscious means; higher education, international exposure, and a marked interest in gender-related issues have not fully eradicated the notions that constitute my background.

As such, the stereotyped conceptualisation of women, their role in society, and the relations between genders needs to be dismantled through education. The state should consider including education to gender equality as official curriculum in order to promote a substantial change in the mindset and approach towards gender-related issues. The potential of education and training in dealing with gender-related issues is grossly underestimated. Gradually educating children and teenagers and offering an alternative, progressive set of values that can be universally embraced would not only guarantee an open-minded conceptualisation of gender relations that Italian society needs, but would also ensure young females are fully aware about biases towards their gender; empower them to fight stereotypes and expectations; and destroy hierarchies between genders, as well as among women themselves.


[1] http://www.istat.it/it/archivio/161716 

[2]  Italian equivalent to the terms femicide and femminicide. The English terms were already in use in the 19th century to refer to gender-based murders. They have then been resumed by Dr. Diana Russell in 1976 during her conferences, and later defined in her book Femicide: the politics of women killings (1992). However, the first official use of the terms can be attributed to the EU Resolution on Murder of women in Central America and Mexico and the European Union’s role in preventing this [2007/2025(INI)]. In the 2000s, the word has been introduced in the Italian language and widely adopted.

[3] Sandro Bellassai, L’invenzione della virilità. Politica e immaginario maschile nell’Italia contemporanea, (Rome: Carocci,2011)


By Clarissa Rossetti
Clarissa holds a Bachelor in Intercultural Communication, Translation and Interpreting from the University of Bologna, Italy, and she is proficient in Italian, English, German, Arabic, and French.
After completion of an academic year abroad at the Karl Franzens University of Graz, Austria, she graduated with a final thesis on the role of interpreters in the asylum-granting process for refugees. She has intensively studied Arabic and volunteered in Amman, Jordan, assisting the refugee communities from Africa and the Middle East.
She has recently lived in Chikwawa, Malawi, where she has developed and completed a project aimed at raising awareness among youth on gender equality, HIV/AIDS, and the importance of education.
Additionally, she writes for an Italian weekly magazine about Middle East-related news, where she is currently working towards the creation of a new section focusing on human rights issues. At the moment, she is seeking to leave soon for her next project abroad and starting her graduate studies in Human Rights and International Development.