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November 25th marks the U.N.'s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In Italy, a recent UN report urged the government to take action against high levels of domestic violence. A trend, the report says, that has lead to an increase in what has been dubbed femicide. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has that story.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: In a sign of growing concern, Italian soccer authorities dedicated a recent Italy-France match to raise awareness about violence against women. It consisted in letting women into the stadium for free. Already this year, 105 women have been killed in Italy by husbands or boyfriends, present or former. Twenty-nine-year-old Vanessa Scialfa was killed by her partner in Sicily. Twenty-five-year-old Alessia Francesca Simonetta was pregnant when she was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in Milan. Seventeen-year-old Carmella Petrucci was stabbed in the throat as she tried to defend her sister from her ex-boyfriend. Police inspector Francesca Monaldi heads the gender crime unit in Rome. She says the names and the cities change, but the stories are very similar.
INSPECTOR FRANCESCA MONALDI: (Through Translator) 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.
POGGIOLI: 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. More than 90 percent of victims of partner abuse do not report cases to the police.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
POGGIOLI: This 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.
ANNA MARIA: (Through Translator) At first I had to tell myself it was my destiny, my mission. You have to bow your head and bear it.
POGGIOLI: From the day she was married, Anna Maria was treated like a slave. 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.
ANNA MARIA: (Through Translator) 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. No. These men are simply violent, that's all. Violence is not your destiny. If you wait, it could be too late.
POGGIOLI: Until only 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 Italian men's contribution 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.
LORELLA ZANARDO: It was really a sort of exploitation of bodies without bringing emancipation.
POGGIOLI: Zanardo believes that the rise in femicide in Italy is the last gasp of a patriarchal society unable to deal with women's growing sense of their own independence, empowerment and identity.
ZANARDO: 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. Very difficult
POGGIOLI: 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. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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