Having always been in the front line for the defense of women’s rights and with a long experience gained in Nepal, starting from 2019 Apeiron has also begun to direct its intervention in Italy.

Gender disparities remain relevant also in Italy, although interpreted in a different way from those in Nepal, due to an extremely different context characterizing many areas of daily life: the labor market, participation in decision-making processes, education and access to health.

The distance between the ideal of an equitable society – where individuals have access to equal opportunities and experiences and are free to express their potential, regardless of their religious, gender and sexual identity  – and the reality in which we live in Italy is therefore as evident as it is persistent.

An even more merciless photograph can be seen if we look at the situation in the light of the historical break that the Covid-19 emergency has represented worldwide. Although it is impossible to make a complete analysis of a social change which is still ongoing, various studies have found that the pandemic has had a significant impact, revealing with unexpected vigor the disparities present in all age groups and the resulting social inequalities.

Gender inequalities do not escape this general trend, indeed, according to the United Nations, the spread of the pandemic is putting even the few goals achieved in recent decades at serious risk.

Inequalities at work

The extent to which crises such as the current one produce disproportionately harmful and lasting effects on women’s mental and physical health, as well as on their socio-economic well-being, is alarming.

In Italy, in the employment field, for example, it was undoubtedly women who were most penalized: the percentage of those who lost their jobs in 2020 was double that of men (ISTAT data). There were also many more women who made use of the redundancy fund and who were forced to activate emergency smart working to cope with the sudden closure of educational services (58%, compared to 23% of men).

The situation has certainly deteriorated today, but it was worrying even before the pandemic: half wages, fewer opportunities for employment and income differences confirm the bleak picture of gender inequalities that have always affected women in the world of work.

Widespread and pervasive gender stereotypes

In 2020, the Observatory of Social Changes in Covid-19 Act (MSA-COVID19) conducted a survey, from which it clearly emerges that even in the most critical and uncertain phase of the lockdown, attitudes and stereotypes related to gender roles have continued to permeate thoughts and behavior in Italian society.

Not even the younger generations are exempt from this: according to some researches, 4 out of 10 Italian teenagers still believe that the man should support the family (including 25% of the female students) and 1 out of 4 males believes that it is the man who should have command over the household. Only the observation that men should do housework (90% of young people) allows these attitudes to be overcome.

Furthermore, in the school environment, girls are privileged victims of various forms of discrimination and violence: exclusion from the group, insults related to their physical appearance, offenses as a woman. The attitude towards sexism is tolerated on average, or considered worthy of respect and not judged negatively if not contextualized, by at least one in 10 students (13.4% of males against 5.4% of females). The level of tolerance to homophobia is even higher: this is even present in 1 out of 4 adolescents (32.7% of males and 14.6% of females). Even in the case of stereotypes, the gravity of the situation has now become more evident, but it was decidedly disheartening even before the arrival of the pandemic. ISTAT data collected before the spread of coronavirus, in fact, showed that stereotypes on gender roles were present in 58.8% of the population, with no particular differences between men and women, more common with age increase and among the less educated.

According to a 2019 research, commissioned by and conducted on a sample of two thousand Italians aged 18 and over, women work on average about six and a half hours more than men, every day, because added to the professional workload is family-related work (care of the house, care of children / and the elderly). Furthermore, according to this research, one in five men (19.1%) think that women should stay at home to take care of the family rather than engaging in activities outside the home.

Gender-based violence

Although in different ways and forms than in Nepal, gender-based violence and discrimination are on the agenda in Italy too. In 2020 there were 102 femicides, in 85% of cases in the family, at the hands of partners or former partners. According to recent Istat data (2017), 1 out of 1000 women went to a refuge and two out of three of them started a path to escape from violence. The State Police Report notes that in March 2019, on average, one female victim of gender-based violence was registered every 15 minutes. The latest Istat data show that 31.5% of women between 16 and 70 have suffered some form of physical or sexual violence in the course of their lives. The most severe forms of violence are carried out by partners or former partners, relatives or friends.

The number of rapes is disturbing together with the fact that in 62.7% of cases they were committed by partners. Even today, the concept of rape is influenced by some cultural stereotypes, linked to sexual violence and physical aggression. We speak more and more often of Rape Culture which affects all women who often find themselves having to limit their behavior because of fear: of having to go home alone, of having worn the wrong dress, of having incited unconsciously sexist behavior or comments. According to data from an Ipsos research, conducted in 2019 in collaboration with Cornell University and L’Oreal Paris, 78% of women have been subjected to sexual harassment in public spaces, while only 25% of victims claim to have received help. In general, 86% do not know what to do when such episodes occur. The picture becomes even more disheartening due to the persistence of the prejudice that accuses women of the responsibility for sexual violence.

But there is more. In addition to physical or sexual violence, women with a partner also suffer psychological and economic violence, i.e. humiliation, valuation, control and intimidation, as well as deprivation or limitation of access to their financial resources or to the family. Finally, Istat shows that a non-negligible percentage of women have also suffered persecutory acts (stalking). It is estimated that 21.5% of women between the ages of 16 and 70 have suffered such behavior by a former partner during their lifetime.

In light of the foregoing, we cannot therefore be surprised if the index on gender equality, a measurement tool developed by EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality), shows that our country continues to present, both overall and as single domains, almost always scores below the European Union average.

The impact of Covid has therefore exasperated and made even more evident the need, already apparent and urgent, to intervene in order to redefine schemes, models and policies. To do this, it is essential to mobilize political decision-makers, public bodies and civil society organizations so that the development of a plural society and culture, capable of recognizing and involving the diversity of which they are made, does not stop.

Apeiron is currently involved in Italy with various projects that intend to contribute to the creation of an equitable and inclusive society. On the one hand, projects aimed at more fragile and exposed Italian and foreign women, both through job orientation and through self-awareness courses; on the other hand, workshops with young generations, both in schools and in meeting places, to break down the stereotypes that still condition this delicate phase of life.