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Italy:

Women Take Over The Story

Thursday 18 October 2007, by Graziella Longoni

’Freedom to live, freedom to love a person of the same or other sex, freedom to decide whether to give birth or not, to have abortion or not.’

We are leaving silence behind. We are going out in the streets. We are becoming visible, determined to say, “Vatican, gripped by Catholic fundamentalism, together with obedient political parties, distributing patriarchal ideology (disguised as the responsibility to defend life, motherhood, and family). Not only does it not want to hear our words, but it attempts to criminalize us in every possible way.” That is the meaning of the huge demonstration held on January 14 in Milan. It was a huge response to an appeal, in which we called for freedom, and women’s self-determination, and the defense of previously obtained women’s human rights. The demonstration joined by women from all over Italy had two basic slogans:
- For women’s freedom, which is the source of all freedoms and basis for democracy,
- For the defense of Law 194 (which relates to reproductive rights) and for secular state, against intimidation and blaming of women.

Historical feminists from the 1970s, but also a lot of young women who were participating in a protest for the first time gathered. They are aware of the idea that a woman’s body is a reproductive container controlled by men is humiliating. A lot of men went into the streets in order to express their solidarity with women, but also because they are convinced that they are also part of the story. The creation or non-creation of a new life is necessarily related to the relations between sexes and men’s responsibility in the sphere of reproduction and sexuality.

The defense of the existing law, which itself defends the secular character of the state, is a radical demand for change related to both women and men. Women’s freedom is also men’s freedom from authoritarian and arrogant policies that are distant from everyday life and from politics which destroy desire, neglects the law and interfere in citizens’ personal lives, compelling them to conform to abstract principles as if they are untouchable and unquestionable laws of nature.

Therefore, the defense is civility and defense of a democratic state in a country in which there is freedom of conscience and rights to health and personal fulfillment for all. These unquestionable rights are easily violated where women are concerned.

The civic involvement reflected on the streets of Milan demands two basic things:

- A secular state, a necessary precondition for the establishment of a pluralistic and unreligious society based upon constitutional guarantees which are the same for everyone, men and women, believers and nonbelievers.
- The independence of legal norm from religious convictions, a strong obstacle to fundamentalism, which cancels individuals’ self-determination in their own lives.
Secularism and self-determination dominated the slogans carried by protesters:

- Freedom is not given. It is taken!
- Stop to cleric harassment!
- Down with the Pope- a monarch!
- Mother by choice!
- Free to choose!
- The only law is desire!
- I love what pleases me. I am free to give birth; I want to create my life!
- Do not begin with embryos, look at the born! Reduce poverty!
- Do not use maternity against women!
- Like family, like the office. You are exploiting us through the illegal work!
- If a child is born, it is not god’s will, but my own!
- Be afraid. The witches are coming back with daughters and granddaughters.

You will not have our vote!

At the beginning of the March, a big banner which read We are Leaving Silence Behind was carried. At the same time, organizations created a civic alliance for solidarity (groups who demand legal equality for heterosexual, homosexual and transsexual partnerships in unmarried partnerships). These two events were connected; firstly, because both of them arise from the same goal of freedom and are new organizations at the borders of so-called political life, which is opposed to so-called palace politics, which combines conquering and being in power with complete apathy for individuals’ lives. Individuals are seen exclusively as a potential resource for votes.
Demonstrations in Milan and Rome have one common statement:

Freedom to live, freedom to love a person of the same or other sex, freedom to decide whether to give birth or not, to have abortion or not to.

The protection human rights united the streets of two cities in one demonstration. Women and men who decided to oppose to constant church harassment, clero-fascist darkness and the mildness of the center-left, which in its hope to attract Catholic votes, does not defend the state’s secular character, enabling the Catholic Church to question citizens’ guaranteed human and civil rights and to interfere in private sphere of individuals’ religious beliefs. We have to keep in mind that the attack on Law 194 is very tough and indirect. The Church is turning family advising institution into nonsense by filling them with Catholic volunteers who place utmost important on “the preservation of human life starting at conception.” (They put psychological pressure on women to stay pregnant by making them feel guilty.) This is particularly dangerous. The current Health Minister advocates this. He is an open follower of the fascist rightwing and a declared opponent to Law 194.

The recognition of the rights of an unborn child has become a meeting point between traditional Catholic ideology, according to which an embryo is a person, and a certain secular ideology that sees an embryo as a “not yet born citizen.” Both ideologies consider an unborn child to be an entity separate from its mother, an entity deserving protection because it is weaker, and which has the right to be born, not because of the potential mother’s wishes, but even against them. If an embryo is a person or potential citizen, the termination of pregnancy is murder.

Women will continue to protest this. They will oppose patriarchal ideology, be it religious or secular, which to separate women’s body from her and reduces it to a battleground on which women’s rights face off with a fetus’ rights.
In relation to this, Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara said,

‘A society that does not create conditions for work, health, and education is an abortive society. A society which forces women to choose between work and giving birth is an abortive society. A society which permits a pregnancy test as part of a woman’s employment is an abortive society. A society which is silenced about men’s responsibility and blames women, which does not respect their bodies or their history is the society of exclusion, a sexist and abortive society.’

Milan, January 14, 2006

(Graziella Longoni is a Women in Black activist from Milan)