The numbers never lie. Yet what do they have to say about the situation of Italian women and work? What reality do they convey? Our country is facing a dramatic scenario. Some figures: we are second to last in Europe in terms of the number of women in the workforce, and dead last in the 25-34 age group. One in five women stop working after having a child.
In December 2020, Istat reported a 0.4% overall decrease in jobs compared to November, which means: 101 thousand fewer people were employed, but 98% of the jobs lost were held by women, 99 thousand. If we look at the whole of 2020, the situation does not get any better: of the 440,000 jobs lost, 312,000 were held by women, which is 20% lower than jobs held by men. Yet women make up 51% of the total population in Italy and, on average, women are better educated than men.
"Gender inequality in Italy", explains Linda Laura Sabbadini, European pioneer of statistics for gender studies and president of the Engagement Group Women 20, "passes through all the other inequalities, fighting it means fighting the others as well. It particularly appears as barriers keeping women from entering, staying in and developing their professional careers. Women enter the labour market later than men"
"They earn less than men in the same position and after childbirth they often leave their jobs or return with part-time contracts. And all these elements play a part in penalising and delaying their career paths". Inequalities become more acute as people get older, so much so that "when it comes time to retire, their retirement income is 40% lower than men's retirement income".
These realities constitute no secret, as it's a heavily discussed matter in Italy: "There is no action", says Sabbadini. "There is no investment in infrastructure, in public day-care centres which should increase from 25% to 60%, no investment in full-time schools, in care and assistance for the elderly and the disabled. Yet these are basic issues. Promoting care welfare would reduce inequalities and ease the burden on women. These incredibly powerful measures would trigger a leap forward in terms of well-being not only for them, but for civil society as a whole. If more women are employed, poverty will decrease and the incomes of middle-class families will increase".
Why can't the country establish care welfare? "In Italy", Sabbadini explains, "social policies are not considered as important as economic policies. The new Draghi government's decision to fragment social policies into five different ministries also exposes us to the risk of not having a central director at a time when inequalities are extremely high".
Countering stereotypes is first and foremost a cultural matter. "There is very strong resistance", Sabbadini emphasises. "Unpaid care work has always been 'handed over' to women, who have in fact replaced the role that public services should have, and indeed do have in other countries".
We must reverse this trend, which is impoverishing not only women at all levels, in both the public and private sectors, not forgetting, of course, politics, where there only eight women ministers compared to fifteen men, but also Italy as a whole. "I am very reluctant to talk about the so-called 'pink quotas', a term that is rather offensive. However, I think they can be useful in breaking the male monopoly. By developing a wealth of approaches in decision-making bodies, from governments to companies, from associations to trade unions, everyone could benefit from that diversity".
And regarding International Women's Day on March 8th: "It is an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of women. They are the ones at the front lines holding the country together and defending social cohesion. They are a vital force and everyone should consider their strength. I hope that the Government will embrace March 8th as an opportunity to announce a strategy for advancing gender equality as a priority for the country".