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Italian Women Call For Action Against 'Femicide'

Demonstrators rally to protest violence against women in a march in Milan, Italy, in November 2009. This year, more than 100 women in Italy have been killed by their male partners.
Antonio Calanni
Demonstrators rally to protest violence against women in a march in Milan, Italy, in November 2009. This year, more than 100 women in Italy have been killed by their male partners.

Already this year, 105 women in Italy have been killed by husbands or boyfriends –- present or former.

Vanessa Scialfa, 29, was killed by her partner in Sicily. Alessia Francesca Simonetta, 25, was pregnant when she was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in Milan. Carmella Petrucci, 17, was stabbed in the throat as she tried to defend her sister from her ex-boyfriend.

Police inspector Francesca Monaldi, who heads the gender crime unit in Rome, says the names and the cities change, but the stories are very similar.

"Murders of women take place mostly within the family, and mostly at the hands of former husbands or boyfriends. They also cross class lines and are committed just as often in rich families as in poorer ones," Monaldi says.

Invisible Crimes

A U.N. report on domestic violence in Italy issued in June sounded the alarm, saying it's the most pervasive form of violence and affects women across the country.

It also remains largely invisible. It's estimated that more than 90 percent of victims of partner abuse do not report cases to the police.

A shelter for battered women in Rome is the new home of 47-year-old Anna Maria. It took this middle-class woman from Naples 29 years to find the courage to escape a violent and abusive marriage.

"At first I had to tell myself it was my destiny, my mission. You have to bow your head and bear it," Anna Maria says.

From the day she was married, Anna Maria faced abuse. Her husband repeatedly beat her and forced her to work in the fields. She says she endured for the sake of her children ,and she had nowhere to go.

She was able to leave the man she only refers to as "him" when her children were grown up and encouraged her to seek, finally, a life of her own.

"I urge all women, at the first alarm bell, to shout for help, and never say, 'Tomorrow is another day and maybe the sun will shine,' " Anna Maria says. "No. These men are simply violent. That's all. Violence is not your destiny. If you wait, it could be too late."

Cultural Resistance

Until a few decades ago, murders of women by their partners were treated as crimes of passion in Italy. Perpetrators were often acquitted. Domestic rape became a crime just 15 years ago.

The U.N. report on Italy says gender stereotypes are deeply rooted, and women carry a heavy burden in terms of household care, while contributions by Italian men to domestic chores is among the lowest in the world.

The report analyzes the treatment of women on TV, where most are rarely given the chance to speak. In 2006, only 2 percent of women on TV were linked to issues of social commitment and professionalism.

Filmmaker Lorella Zanardo says women on the small screen are usually associated with sex, fashion and beauty.

"It was really a sort of exploitation of bodies, without bringing emancipation," Zanardo says.

Zanardo thinks the rise in "femicide" in Italy is the last gasp of a patriarchal society unable to deal with womens' growing sense of their own independence, empowerment and identity.

"The fear is that in the relationship in the future, we will not have anymore a person who is more important and a partner who is less important, but they will be equal also in the relationship. This is very difficult to accept," Zanardo says.

The U.N. report recommends that the Italian government create a specific body dedicated to the issue of gender equality and help train judges to address effectively cases of violence against women.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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