Sexual Harassment and the Upcoming Italian Elections

sexual harassment

Since October, when the Weinstein case first saw the light on the pages of the New Yorker, the USA have been taken by storm: women in different working fields have come forward – from Uber to the world of Olympic gymnasts, harassers are being taken down one at the time. It is one of the most debated topics now, from fashion magazines to chronicles’ newspapers and it started a worldwide discussion. In this tornado of events, Italians were mostly passive. Of course, Asia Argento was one of the first to accuse Weinstein and a document denouncing harassers was written and signed by more than 120 Italian actresses and female directors. But after four months, it feels like little has occurred. And now? Now national elections are around the corner. On the 4th of March, 4 days before Women’s day, Italians will be called to vote for a new parliament. And what is being said on sexual harassment? In this very fragmented election, the opinions and positions to be examined are not few, but I will report the main ones and try to draw a picture of the take of Italian politicians on sexual harassment.

Starting from the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), the individual party with most votes, on the 5th of February, an article was published by the candidate Dino Giarrusso on their blog. In there he expressed solidarity with the 120 actresses who penned and signed the letter aforementioned, as well as his dislikes towards the article 609/bis, regulating sexual harassment in Italy which gives the victim a maximum of 6 months’ time to come forward and denounce the violence, a time often too short for survivors of an abuse, who might need to undergo the process of finding the strength to tell their story. A process particularly hard in Italy, where victims can still be seen as the guilty party in the eyes of the public. It is important to underline the figure of Giarrusso, since he was one of the makers of the investigation of television program “Le Iene” on the Weinstein-like cases occurring in Italy. Another remarkable comment from a party member came from Silvia Benedetti, who expressed anger for the dismissal of a case of sexual harassment on the workplace in Vicenza and stated that politics has to do more in this field. From the leaders of the party, however, little has been said.

The law mentioned previously, about prolonging prescription time for denouncing, was presented to the Camera in December by three members of the parliament, who arrived there as part of the coalition led by the Partito Democratico (PD), which is today the party with most voters of the coalition of center-left. What position does this coalition take? Talking about the program for the elections, the prolonging of prescription time for denouncing sexual harassment and violence is not part of the 100 points officially presented by the party, nor is any proposition to reduce sexual harassment. Moreover, Maria Elena Boschi, a prominent member of the same party and the leader of the department of Pari Opportunità, the department that deals with giving women same opportunities and conditions of men in every field of life, has not been addressing the issue during this campaign. The secretary of the party, Matteo Renzi, has not made relevant public commentaries about sexual harassment. Finally, one of the party leaders of this coalition is Emma Bonino, who has always fought for women’s rights throughout her life and from which some positive advocating can be expected, even though it was not so strongly manifested, as she also focused a lot on other topics.

The other main coalition, that of centre-right, is composed by the four main parties on that side of the political spectrum. The coalition has presented one joint program, where there is mention of “defense of equal opportunities” and other proposals to help working moms. While those are positive objectives, no mention of increasing awareness on the topic of sexual harassment and violence is made. Focusing on the leaders: Salvini has expressed opinions in favor of victims, but it often has a correlation to a key topic of its party: immigration. Even on the 25th of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, when expressing solidarity against victims, he said: “no submission, unlike some “foreign culture” would want”. And while only assumption can be made on which “foreign culture” he specifically addressed, the nasty comments that victims in Italy often get, amplified by the existence of Facebook; inserting immigration side to side with violence and abuses on women might distort the attention from the central topic of the case: violence and abuses on women, regardless of the culture, origin or citizenship of the perpetrator and of the victim. Silvio Berlusconi, co-founder of Forza Italia, made headlines for the endorsement of the statements made by Catherine Deneuve, the famous actress among the signatories of the Tribune of 100 women published on “Le Monde” a few weeks ago in defense of the right to “importuner”, to bother, which they claimed to be indispensable for sexual freedom. Berlusconi is therefore supporting the position of women criticizing the #metoo movement. Another leader, Giorgia Meloni, declared in an interview in 2016 that to win the battle against violence on women, people’s mentality had to change; she obviously places an importance in public opinion and the necessity to change that in order to change the rest. She also offered solidarity to Laura Boldrini, President of the Chamber, after a particularly violent hate post on Facebook, stating that the climate of hate increases the violence on women, though, just like Salvini, she also has the habit of linking immigration to sexual assault.

The last party among the main competitors, Liberi e Uguali (LeU), headed by Pietro Grasso, is a new party encompassing many different politicians previously associated with the center-left. Among these there are the two current presidents of the houses of the Parliament, Laura Boldrini and Pietro Grasso. Both have spoken up for women: Laura Boldrini does it often, despite all the heavy hates she gets on social media, and Pietro Grasso has said in a recent interview “it’s a problem starting from us men, and only we can remedy to it. I apologize to you all [women]”. In their electoral program they talk about equality, mentioning the importance of contrasting violence against women and of granting them the possibility to choose a future of which they are confident about.

So here we have it: the main coalitions and its leaders have spoken, violence against women should be condemned. But is that enough? Violence against women, yes, but where is sexual harassment inserted? When writing this article, I had problems finding declarations of the politicians I mentioned, likely because they were few and in selected circumstances such as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And aside from a general and vague support, nobody took the time to fully deepen the discussion: to go beyond violence on women itself and focus more on sexual harassment and violence on the workplace, or to endorse prolonging the time of prescription to denounce sexual violence. In these election, parties agree on some topics and have opposite opinions on others, but failed to give enough importance to this very important issue and to exploit the chance to create a change in our country.


Vittoria Santoro

Women in Business_Bocconi Female Students Association