Non Una di Meno protest on 28 September in Rome. Image: Claudia Torrisi. All rights reserved.
This article is part of Right to Protest, a partnership project with human rights organisations CELS and INCLO, with support from the ACLU, examining the power of protest and its fundamental role in democratic society.
“We take back the streets, we take back the squares.” The voice through the megaphone resonates in the air as groups of women reach piazza dell’Esquilino in Rome, holding fuchsia-and-black placards and shaking rolling pins. It’s 28 September, International Safe Abortion Day, and the Italian feminist movement Non Una Di Meno (Not One Less) has organised demonstrations and initiatives across the whole country to protest against the massive obiezione di coscienza (“conscientious objection”) of gynecologists – whereby doctors can refuse to conduct legal abortions on moral grounds – and to demand the women’s right to choose when it comes to their bodies.
Data collected annually by the department of health shows that as many as seven out of ten Italian gynecologists are obiettori di coscienza (“conscientious objectors” in relation to abortion). In some regions, this figure is even higher: 93% in Molise (in central Italy); over 80% in Sicily and Lazio (where Rome is). Many women are forced to travel around until they find a hospital where they can access the services they need. “Conscientious objection is one of the kinds of violence perpetrated against women every day,” the activists say, yelling the old slogan: “The body is mine and I decide.”
Safe abortion is just one of the Italian movement’s claims, however.
"Rape is rape, regardless of the nationality of the rapist"
In recent weeks, the theme of violence against women has loomed large in Italy, following the rape of two women by a group of four immigrant men on a beach in Rimini on 26 August.
Following the incident, politicians and the media talked of a “rape emergency”, and started a campaign for womens’ safety based on racist scaremongering: drumming up a fear of foreigners and migrants; demanding more surveillance in the streets and more police powers; and giving rape-prevention advice to women. A Rome newspaper, Il Messaggero, published a handbook telling women to avoid “dangerous situations”, and to accept protection through surrendering to the “need to recognise the risks and weaknesses of female destiny.”
“We don’t want our bodies used for racist and xenophobic campaigns: rape is rape, regardless of the nationality of the rapist. We reject the culture of possession that triggers male violence and we do not accept the blackmail of fear,” was the response from Non Una Di Meno activists. “The streets of our cities are not savannas infested with predators from which we can defend only by renouncing the freedom to move.” Moreover, they add, “the majority of rapes occur among the domestic walls. The rapist is often a husband, a partner, a father, a cousin.”
The demonstrations have also created a space of self-determination for women to challenge all the aspects of patriarchy
This is not the first time Non Una Di Meno protesters have taken to the streets in Italy. Over a year or so of activity the movement has united different feminist groups in the country under one banner, forming one big, inclusive wave of protest. “We will be a tide” is one of the slogans of the movement, not by chance.
A worldwide feminist movement
Non Una Di Meno takes its name from Ni Una Menos, the movement conceived in Argentina in mid 2015, after more than 200,000 people marched on the streets of Buenos Aires (and large crowds gathered in other cities) following the murder of 14-year-old Chiara Paez, whose body was found buried in the garden of her boyfriend’s house in May 2015.
A group of journalists, artists and actresses, not part of existing feminist associations, decided to do something. “We protested, rallying around the slogan and hashtag #NiUnaMenos (“NotOneLess”, meaning we must not lose one more woman to violence),” Hinde Pomeraniec, one of the women who organized the demonstration, explained. It became one of the biggest demonstrations seen in Argentina in the last 30 years.
The movement has spread across several Latin American countries. Though many protests have been sparked from specific femicides, the demonstrations have also created a space of self-determination for women to challenge all the aspects of patriarchy – including domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, abortion, gender roles, sexual objectification, the gender pay gap – and to force a debate about the recognition and value of the women in society. One form of protest by the movement has been to strike: the women interrupt their productive and reproductive functions, claiming that “if our lives have no value, we do not produce.” For instance, on 3 October 2016, thousands of women in Poland boycotted their jobs and classes to protest against a bill to ban abortion.
The turning point in Italy was the femicide of 22 year-old Sara Di Pietrantonio, who was burnt to death by her ex-boyfriend. Following her death, different groups – established feminists, new feminist groups, trans-feminist and queer groups, women’s refuges and anti-violence organisations – met at an assembly in Rome. That meeting was the first step for the birth of a new movement.
“We could not wait any longer regarding the problem of male violence. Enough was enough, we had to make our voices heard,” Sara Picchi, one of the founders of Non Una Di Meno, stated. “We took the slogan from the Argentine women’s movement because we liked the idea of building a worldwide movement that holds protests on the same days and in the same forms. Gender-based violence is an international issue that affects women in every country.”
The symbol of the movement is the Russian doll (Matryoshka): one woman inside another, from Italy to Europe, to Latin America.
Non Una di Meno protest in Rome, 28 September 2017. Image: Claudia Torrisi. Some rights reserved.
“A feminist movement is rising”
According to the report by Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), about 7 million women between 16 and 70 years (almost one in three) has suffered some form of physical or sexual violence in their lives. 4.5 million women has been the victim of sexual violence (even attempted), 652,000 was raped. Partners, or former partners, are usually the perpetrators of the most serious violations: they are responsible for almost 63% of rapes. ISTAT’s president Giorgio Alleva said that “more than one in three women who has suffered violence from her partner has reported wounds, bruises, bruises or other injuries.” In 2016, he added, “about 149 women have been murdered, and nearly 3 out 4 were committed in the family: 59 women were killed by their partner, 17 by a former partner and 33 by a relative.”
The first big demonstration held by Non Una Di Meno was in Rome on 26 November 2016, the day after the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It was organized by “Io decido” (a group from Rome who fight for the application of the law on abortion), “D.i. Re.” Donne In Rete (a network of over 70 anti-violence centres in Italy) and UDI-Unione Donne in Italia (an historical association). The march was joined by 150 national networks, many women’s refuges and anti-violence centres.
“We don’t want to lose any other woman because of the violence of a man or the conscientious objection or any other form of violence,” Tatiana Montella, from the network Io Decido, said the day before the demonstration. “In Italy”, she added, “a feminist movement is rising. It starts from the bottom and wants to bring out the women’s voice. This will happen on Saturday without party flags, institutions or unions.”
More than 100,000 women, families, people of every age and from all over Italy marched through the streets of Rome, claiming to stop gender-based violence, carrying pictures of victims of femicide, placards in fuchsia and black and yelling out loud “Non Una Di Meno”, “Not [a woman] less.”
The massive demonstration of 26 November 2016 protested also against the funding cuts by the government for women’s refuges around the country, the conscientious objection by gynecologists and the non-implementation of the law on abortion, the discrimination in the workplace, the lack of welfare and the bad coverage of gender-based violence by the media that blame the victims.
“This demonstration was the unexpected event of the autumn, a real dislocation of the dominant political narrative. It changed the meaning of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the day before: from being an empty institutional day, used by politicians to sanctify the victimisation and impotence of women, to a day that opened a new political space, empowering women and all other groups that are fighting against violence and all other forms of discriminations,” the activists said.
Despite the great participation, mainstream newspapers and TV channels almost ignored Non Una Di Meno’s protest. But that was just the beginning of the rise of the movement.
The march was in fact the first stage of a longer journey. On 27 November, a national meeting of Non Una Di Meno took place in Rome to discuss the writing of a national feminist anti-violence plan to replace the Extraordinary Action Plan against sexual and gender-based violence adopted by the Italian government in 2015. “Our plan is a programme for tackling violence in our society, it is a plan for actions and self-organisation, and a way of coming together, explore and enhance our differences,” the activists explained.
During the assembly, the movement split out in eight thematic areas: legislative and legal aspects, work and welfare, education, migrant feminism, sexism in the movements, narration of violence in the media, right to sexual and reproductive health, routes to escape violence.
They have taken back feminism without any cliché, renewing it from the inside
“We think that male violence against women is a structural problem: it involves many facets of women’s lives, limiting their freedom. These areas reflect this vision,” Picchi says. “We have the authority and the competences to write our plan. Government and administrations keep talking about violence as an emergency, but it’s not: it happens everyday, everywhere.”
Other national Non Una Di Meno’s meetings were held in Bologna in February and then in Rome again in April of this year. The next one will be in Pisa on 14 October. Meanwhile, local groups have started to meet in several Italian cities.
“I am stunned by these girls. I have seen 40 years of feminism, but this generation is different. It has an unexpected potential,” Lea Melandri, a feminist involved in 1970s movements, said early this year. “Those girls are very young,” she added, “they study at university or high school, and in many cases they do not know much about the battles of historical feminism (…) They have taken back feminism without any cliché, renewing it from the inside, bringing the theme of equality in all the social spheres, from reproductive health to freedom of movement for migrants, from education to a new model of economy to free us from that form of patriarchy that is capitalism.”
On 8 March 2017 – International Women’s Day – Non Una Di Meno joined a global women’s strike, announced by Ni Una Menos in Argentina. The protests took place in 48 countries, with initiatives, demonstrations and the abstension of the women from any public or private activity.
The strike was criticised by part of the Italian media, that accused the movement of “ruining the Women’s Day” (in Italy known as “Women’s festivity”). Nevertheless, in Rome 20,000 people marched from the Colloseum demanding rights and self-determination, while other initiatives were held in several Italian cities.
The next demonstration will be on 25 November 2017. “We still have a lot to say. Italian politicians want women to stay home, they want to control us and our bodies, pretending that they do it for our safety. They blackmail us with fear. Meanwhile women are raped or killed everyday,” Picchi says. “We do not need cameras or survelliance, we need rights. We want to go out alone, even at night. As one of our slogans says: free streets are made by women who cross them.”