Women in Italy

Women in Italy

Sophia Loren, one of Italy's best known actresses
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.094 (2012)
Rank 11th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 4 (2010)
Women in parliament 31.4% (2013)[1]
Females over 25 with secondary education 68.0% (2010)
Women in labour force 47.8% (employment rate OECD definition, 2015)[2]
Global Gender Gap Index[3]
Value 0.6885 (2013)
Rank 71st out of 144

Italian Women are females who are from or live in Italy. The legal and social status of Italian women has undergone rapid transformations and changes during the past decades, including family laws, the enactment of anti-discrimination measures, and reforms to the penal code, in particular with regard to crimes of violence against women.[4]


For the Roman period, see Women in Ancient Rome.

Women in Pre-Modern Italy

Italian women had very little opportunities to distinguished themselves during the Middle Ages, if not as a result of some extraordinary circumstances. Some widows inherited ruling positions from their husbands, such in the case of Matilde of Canossa. Educated women could find opportunities of leadership only in the convent, from Clare of Assisi to Catherine of Siena.

The Renaissance (15th–16th centuries) challenged conventional wisdom from the Medieval period. Women were still confined to the roles of "monaca, moglie, serva, cortigiana" ("nun, wife, servant, courtesan")[5] However, literacy spread among upper class women in Italy and a growing number of women stepped out into the secular intellectual arena. Venetian-born Christine de Pizan wrote The City of Ladies in 1404, and in it she described women's gender as having no innate inferiority to men's, although being born to serve the other sex. Some fortunate women who could afford it were able to gain an education on their own, or had a father or a husband who allowed them to have some education through tutoring and cultivate the arts. Lucrezia Tornabuoni in Florence, Veronica Gambara at Correggio; Veronica Franco and Moderata Fonte in Venice, Vittoria Colonna in Rome, are among the renowned women intellectuals of the time. Powerful women rulers of the Italian Renaissance, such as Isabella d'Este, Catherine de' Medici or Lucrezia Borgia, combined political skill with cultural interests and patronage.

By the late 16th and early 17th century, Italian women intellectuals presented themselves and were embraced by contemporary culture as learned daughters, wives, mothers, and equal partners in their household salons.[6] Among them were composers Francesca Caccini and Leonora Baroni, and painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Outside the family setting, Italian women continued to find opportunities in the convent and now increasingly, also as singers in the theatre, from Anna Renzi (described as the first diva in the history of opera) to Barbara Strozzi. In 1678 Elena Cornaro Piscopia was the first woman in Italy to receive an academical degree, in philosophy, from the University of Padua.

Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Italian mathematician and linguist, who was, according to Dirk Jan Struik "the first important woman mathematician since Hypatia (fifth century A.D.)".
Maria Montessori, physician and educator
Grazia Deledda, 1926 Nobel Prize for Literature
Rita Levi-Montalcini, 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine

In the 18th-century the Enlightenment offered for the first time to Italian women, such as Laura Bassi, Cristina Roccati, Anna Morandi Manzolini and Maria Gaetana Agnesi, the possibility to engage in the field of science and mathematics. Italian sopranos and primedonne continued to be famous all around Europe: Vittoria Tesi, Caterina Gabrielli, Lucrezia Aguiari and Faustina Bordoni. Other notable women of the period include painter Rosalba Carriera, and composer Maria Margherita Grimani.

Women of the Risorgimento

The Napoleonic Age and the Italian Risorgimento offered for the first time to Italian women the opportunity to be politically engaged.[7] In 1799 in Naples, poet Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel was executed as one of the protagonists of the short-lived Parthenopean Republic. In the early 19th century, some of the most influential salons where Italian patriots, revolutionaries and intellectuals were meeting, were run by women, such as Bianca Milesi Mojon, Clara Maffei, Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso, and Antonietta De Pace. Some women even distinguished themselves in the battlefield, from Anita Garibaldi (the wife of Giuseppe Garibaldi) and Rosalia Montmasson (the only woman to have joined the Expedition of the Thousand) to Giuseppina Vadalà who along with her sister Paolina led an anti-Bourbon revolt in Messina in 1848, and Giuseppa Bolognara Calcagno, who fought as a soldier in Garibaldi's liberation of Sicily.

The Kingdom of Italy (1861–1925)

Women were granted no right to vote in the new Italian state.

Anna Maria Mozzoni triggered a widespread women's movement in Italy through the publication of Woman and her social relationships on the occasion of the revision of the Italian Civil Code (La donna e i suoi rapporti sociali in occasione della revisione del codice italiano) in 1864. In 1868 Alaide Gualberta Beccari began publishing the journal Women in Padua.

A growing percentage of young women were now employed in factories. Excluded from the political life, women were particularly exploited. Under the influence of socialist leaders, such as Anna Kuliscioff, women became active in the constitution of the first Labor Unions. In 1902 the first law to protect the labor of women (and children) was approved. It forbade them working in the mines and limited daily hours to 12 hours for women.

By the 1880s, women were making inroads towards higher education. In 1877 Ernestina Puritz Manasse-Paper was the first woman to get a university degree in modern Italy, in medicine, and in 1907 Rina Monti was the first female professor in an Italian University.

The most famous women of the time were actresses Eleonora Duse, Lyda Borelli and Francesca Bertini; writers Matilde Serao, Sibilla Aleramo, Carolina Invernizio and Grazia Deledda (who in 1926 would win the Nobel Prize); sopranos Luisa Tetrazzini and Lina Cavalieri; educator Maria Montessori.

Under the Fascist regime (1925–45)

Even before the March on Rome, despite the difficulties of the revolutionary period (Red Biennium), they were still a hundred militant fascist women, while in Monza was founded the first women's fascist group on May 12, 1920.

After coming to power, Fascism will try to undermine the old bigots prejudices. If the first point of the fascist Manifesto of Piazza Sansepolcro asked "vote and eligibility for women", the law of the 22nd of Novembre 1925 established in fact the female vote in local elections, although the measure had no practical consequences.

In 1938, moreover, Mussolini even tried to ensure the representation of women in the Chamber of Fasci and Corporations, but the king Vittorio Emanuele III opposed the idea. Which makes understand by which environments arrived the greatest resistances to overcoming the old social and cultural patterns. The truth is that fascism intended to offer women "a third way between the oratory and the house" . "The nationalization of all the individual destinies called each person, man or woman, to participate actively in the construction of the greatness of their country, "as Annalisa Terranova wrote in his "Camiciette Nere". Notable for that time the rules that established the ban of the dismissal in case of pregnancy and a waiting period for maternity.

Not only this laws: challenging the prevailing moralism, fascism will bring in stadiums thousands of young girls, in an enterprise of collective mobilization that basically created something from nothing - women's sports - entirely absent in Italy before 1922.

In 1935, G.A. Chiurco is even more explicit: "The fascist state can't conceive the woman locked in her house." Not always, unfortunately, this awareness came to dismantle the old pre - fascist prejudices, even though it is thanks to the regime's effort if in the Olympics of 1936 Italy conquered a historic gold medal in the 80 meters hurdles with the athlete Ondina Valla, who celebrated with a fascist salute from the top step of the podium. Valla was then received with full honors in Venice Square by Mussolini.

The young Italian women of the regime "were no longer attached to the skirt of their mothers and had managed to stop with the imprisonment of older sisters, which, at their age, came out of the house only in mom's or aunt's company," acknowledged the anti-fascist Victoria de Grazia.

And last but not least is remarkable experience of the SAF (Servizio Ausiliario Femminile): the first female army in the world wanted by Mussolini during the period of the Italian Social Republic (1943-1945).

The Italian Republic (1945–present)

After WW2, women were given for the first time the right to vote and be elected. The new Italian Constitution of 1948 affirmed that women had equal rights. It was not however until the 1970s that women in Italy scored some major achievements with the introduction of laws regulating divorce (1970) and abortion (1978), and the approval in 1975 of the new family code.

Famous women of the period include politicians Nilde Iotti, Tina Anselmi, and Emma Bonino; actresses Anna Magnani, Sofia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida; soprano Renata Tebaldi; ballet dancer Carla Fracci; costume designer Milena Canonero; sportwomen Sara Simeoni, Deborah Compagnoni, Valentina Vezzali, and Federica Pellegrini; writers Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, Alda Merini, and Oriana Fallaci; architect Gae Aulenti; scientist and 1986 Nobel Prize Rita Levi-Montalcini; astrophysicist Margherita Hack; astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti; pharmacologist Elena Cattaneo; and CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti.


Today, women have the same legal rights as men, and have mainly the same job, business and education opportunities.[8]

Reproductive rights and health

Further information: Abortion in Italy

The maternal mortality rate in Italy is 4 deaths/100,000 live births (as of 2010), one of the lowest in the world.[9] The HIV/AIDS rate is 0.3% of adults (aged 15–49) - estimates of 2009.[10]

Abortion laws were liberalized in 1978: abortion is usually legal during the first trimester of pregnancy, while at later stages of pregnancy it is permitted only for medical reasons, such as problems with the health of the mother or fetal defects.[11] However, in practice it is often difficult to obtain an abortion, due to the rising number of conscientious objectors among doctors and nurses (who refuse to perform an abortion based on moral/religious opposition, which they are legally allowed to do[4]).[12]

Marriage and family

Divorce in Italy was legalized in 1970. Obtaining a divorce in Italy is still a lengthy and complicated process, requiring a period of legal separation before it can be granted,[13] although the period of separation has been reduced in 2015.[14] Adultery was decriminalized in 1969, after the Constitutional Court of Italy struck down the law as unconstitutional, because it discriminated against women.[15] In 1975, law no 151/1975 provided for gender equality within marriage, abolishing the legal dominance of the husband.[4][16]

Unmarried cohabitation in Italy and births outside of marriage are not as common as in many other Western countries, but in recent years they have increased. In 2015, 28,7% of all births were outside of marriage, but there are significant differences by regions, with unmarried births being more common in the North than in the South.[17]

Female education

Women in Italy tend to have highly favorable results, and mainly excel in secondary and tertiary education.[8] Ever since the Italian economic miracle, women's literacy rate and university enrollment has gone up dramatically in Italy.[8] The literacy rate of women is only slightly lower than that of men (as of 2011, the literacy rate was 98.7% female and 99.2% male).[18] 60% of Italian university graduates are female, and women are excellently represented in all academic subjects, including mathematics, information technology and other technological areas which are usually occupied by males.[8]


Female standards at work are generally of a high quality and professional, but are not as good as in education.[8] The probability of a woman getting employed is mainly related to her qualifications, and 80% of women who graduate from university go to look for jobs.[8] Women in Italy face a number of challenges. Although gender roles are not as strict as they have been in the past, sexual and domestic abuse is still quite prevalent in Italy. On average, women do 3.7 hours more housework than men. Men make up the majority of the parliament, women represent less than a third of the parliament.[19] Additionally, women in Italy are not adequately represented in the workforce, as Italy has one of the lowest rates of employment for women of the countries within the European Union. Women's employment rate (for ages 15-64) is 47.8% (in 2015), compared to that of 66.5% for men.[20] Many women are still frequently expected to stay at home and care for the house and children, as opposed to earning a salary and becoming a breadwinner; and few senior managerial positions are held by women. Furthermore, there are unequal standards and expectations for the few women who actually make it into a professional setting. For example, 9% of working Italian mothers have been fired due to pregnancy. Critics say that the existing legislation is adequate and fair, but the social climate still does not reflect full equality, nor does it protect against abuse. Italian lawmakers are working to further protect and support women as they break gender stereotypes and join the workforce, but complete cultural change is slow.[21][22][23]


Women holding white collar, high level or office jobs tend to get paid the same as men, but women with blue collar or manual positions are paid 1/3 less than their male counterparts.[8]

Culture and society

There is, today, a growing acceptance of gender equality, and people (especially in the North[24]) tend to be far more liberal towards women getting jobs, going to university and doing stereotypically male things. However, in some parts of society, women are still stereotyped as being simply housewives and mothers, also reflected in the fact of a higher-than-EU average female unemployment.[25]

Violence against women

In recent years, Italy has taken steps to address violence against women and domestic violence, including Law No. 38 of 23 April 2009.[16] Italy has also ratified the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.[26]

Traditionally, as in other Mediterranean European areas, the concept of family honor was very important in Italy. Indeed, until 1981, the Criminal Code provided for mitigating circumstances for so called honor killings.[27] Traditionally, honor crimes used to be more prevalent in Southern Italy.[28][29]


See also


  1. Youtrend
  2. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LFS_SEXAGE_I_R#
  3. "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13.
  4. 1 2 3 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/493052/IPOL-FEMM_NT%282014%29493052_EN.pdf
  5. Sara F. Matthews-Grieco (a cura di), Monaca, moglie, serva, cortigiana: vita e immagine delle donne tra Rinascimento e Controriforma (Firenze: Morgana, 2001).
  6. Ross, Sarah Gwyneth (2010). The Birth of Feminism: woman as intellect in Renaissance Italy and England. Harvard University Press. p. 2.
  7. Antonietta Drago, Donne e amori del Risorgimento (Milano, Palazzi, 1960).
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/articles/article/Italy/Women%E2%80%99s-Rights-in-Italy/314
  9. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html
  10. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2155rank.html
  11. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/abortion/doc/italy.doc.
  12. http://inchieste.repubblica.it/it/repubblica/rep-it/inchiesta-italiana/2013/05/23/news/torna_l_aborto_clandestino-59480523/?ref=HREC2-6
  13. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/world/europe/15italy.html?pagewanted=all
  14. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/23/us-italy-divorce-idUSKBN0NE1JD20150423
  15. http://www.impowr.org/content/role-traditions-divorce-italy
  16. 1 2 http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A-HRC-20-16-Add2_en.pdf
  17. http://www.istat.it/it/files/2016/11/Statistica-report-Nati.pdf?title=Natalit%C3%A0+e+fecondit%C3%A0++-+28%2Fnov%2F2016+-+Testo+integrale+e+nota+metodologica.pdf
  18. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2103.html
  19. http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm
  20. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=LFS_SEXAGE_I_R#
  21. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/19/world/europe/a-call-for-aid-not-laws-to-help-women-in-italy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  22. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7337145.stm
  23. http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304073204579171840922681228
  24. Sud Italia, questo non è un Paese per donne. 20/02/2012. Eilmensile.it. access:14/09/2014.
  25. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7337145.stm
  26. http://www.conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/ChercheSig.asp?NT=210&CM=&DF=&CL=ENG
  27. Until 1981 the law read: Art. 587: He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offence to his honour or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven years. The same sentence shall apply to whom, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his spouse, daughter, or sister.
  28. "Explainer: Why Is It So Hard To Stop 'Honor Killings'?". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  29. http://www.lalibellulaitalianistica.it/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/HonorKillingEditAnnaCafaro.pdf

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