Iginio Gagliardone Headshot

If Not Now, When?

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BERLUSCONI PROTEST
AP
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After Tunisia and Egypt, can the winds of change blow across the Mediterranean Sea, bringing reforms in another troubled neighbour? Not Jordan or Syria. But Italy.

It may not be justified to compare Hosni Mubarak's 30 years in power or Ben Ali's 23 with Silvio Berlusconi's rule over Italy, interrupted twice by the victory of centre-left coalitions. But many commentators, at home and abroad, have started referring to Italy's past 20 years as Berlusconi's reign, an epoch during which the country has been substantially transformed by the power of one man.

It may be equally un-justified to compare the causes that led to the movements in North Africa with those that may spur a people's revolution in Italy. But, similarly to the young Tunisians and Egyptians who ignited the protests in their countries, young Italians seem to have had their future taken away by a system that frustrates innovation and change from below.

In Italy, 74 students out of 100 are the first in their families to have been to university. This is a tremendous achievement, but many of these first generation graduates cannot find jobs. In 2006, before the global financial crisis, less than 40% had a stable position one year after having completed their studies. While for their parents a degree was almost a guarantee of a job for life, it can do much less today. The market of skilled labour offers mostly internships and precarious positions. Many graduates have to renounce their qualifications to get less prestigious, but more stable, jobs in a shop or a factory.

Within this group, women have lost out the most. Italy ranks second in the European Union for women's unemployment and has the EU's worst gender pay gap. While the causes of this marginalization are deeply rooted in the country's history, in the past few years the Italian media have been accused of making things worse. Not just television, which is directly or indirectly controlled by Berlusconi, but also the media that advocate for alternatives to Berlusconi and to his politics, appears to have relegated women to the roles of either mothers or soubrettes.

But what if it was women to initiate the process of change Italy desperately needs? The most dynamic response to Italy's troubled politics seems to be coming from them and a coalition of women's associations called for a demonstration on Sunday 13 February, with the slogan "If not now, when?". The protest emerged as a reaction to the prostitution scandal Berlusconi has recently been involved in, but it has taken on a wider agenda, denouncing the inability of a whole society to react to its slow and constant degradation. Similar to their fellow protesters in Tunis or Cairo, Italians have used the web and social networks to organize and coordinate the event, extending it from a few cities to hundreds.

The outcomes of Italy's rallies will be different from those witnessed in Northern Africa, but revolutions come in many forms. At a time where Italy's reputation has been heavily compromised, the dignity and respect women demand for themselves can turn into a wider call. In the end, as women themselves declared, just weeks away from Italy's 150th anniversary, "the dignity of women is the dignity of a nation."