On September 22, Italy will inaugurate its first Fertility Day, a national initiative launched by the Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin to urge women to take advantage of their fertility years and make more babies in response to a falling birth rate.
In 2015, Ansa reported (http://www.ansa.it/english/news/2016/07/08/italy-has-lowest-birth-rate-in-eu-eurostat-2_727d004b-8844-4e81-82a1-5248954e0d7b.html ), Italy had the lowest birth rate among all 28 European Union members, with 1.35 births per woman. The United States ranks just a little higher, with 1.90 births per woman in 2014.
The first national Fertility Day will take place in Rome, Bologna, Padova and Catania, with round tables and city-wide talks and events to raise awareness and educate the public about reproductive health, children’s health and how to prevent the risk factors that might hamper it.
But all that glitters is not gold, and let’s just say that Lorenzin’s campaign failed to glitter since its very own conception—if you excuse the pun. At a time in history when earning more advanced degrees does not necessarily turn into higher earnings for Italian women, with few resulting maternity leave benefits, many of our donne italiane have felt downright offended at what has been deemed an unnecessary governmental intrusion into their own reproductive choices.
Why encouraging us to have more babies, many of us thoughts, while the system does not support and reward us as it should?
Fertility Day campaign ads have featured women holding hourglasses while touching their bellies, and a slogan explaining that “Beauty has no age. Fertility does.” Another shows two pairs of feet tucked under a blanket, and suggests that “Young parents [are] the best way to be creative.” Yet another encourages women to “Hurry up! Don’t wait for a stork to show up.”
In the United States, governmental influence over an individual’s life is usually a Democrat lawmaker’s business. Ministro Lorenzin, however, belongs to right-wing party Nuovo Centrodestra in Matteo Renzi’s left-wing government. So naturally, the Fertility Day initiative has echoed not only traditional family values in the cradle of Catholicism, but also the type of family and life planning that made a staple of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist agenda starting in the early 1920s into the following two decades.
Except the Italian women of childbearing age of today live in a completely different country. We study, domestically and even abroad. We make more money—though never as much as our guys. We hold political offices and, as of June of this year, even Rome’s coveted mayorship. And yet, Italy still holds strong to a variety of backward-looking practices. Sexual education is a mirage in private schools, and conservative legislators and parents staunchly oppose its widespread inception even in public schools.
On paper, mothers are entitled to a five-month maternity leave, during which they’ll receive 80 percent of their salary, and are guaranteed their position upon return. In practice, employers often bypass the law and lay off the pregnant woman. Paternity leave is an option only in the event of serious illness for the mother.
From this perspective, talks of the falling birth rate being due to an increased number of abortions and more ready access to birth control (http://www.lifenews.com/2015/02/17/italy-experiencing-a-massive-baby-shortage-due-to-abortion/) sound more like traditional Catholic rhetoric than the real explanation behind the issue. If anything, abortion and birth control become, for some women, necessary.
Even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi refused to endorse the Fertility Day campaign. The uproar the initiative has caused led Lorenzin to refocus the campaign on less conspicuous education on reproductive health, rather than an unsolicited effort to identify women’s health and worth for the country with their reproductive ability. Let’s not even mention that some women yearn for babies, yet have conditions that prevent them from procreate. Talks of hourglasses and storks are, for them, entirely beside the point.
Criticism against Fertility Day is, however, a clear sign that Italy is switching gears, and not just those of its manual cars. Backward-looking campaigns notwithstanding, the country is headed in a more liberal direction than ever before.