Being a working mother in Italy? My open letter to Ministry Valeria Fedeli

This morning the Italian national newspapers showed big letter titles about the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research Valeria Fedeli supporting the current law which forces adults to go and pick up children from school until they are 14 years old. You heard me, 13 year old kids cannot walk home by themselves.

Before commenting on the matter, I want to downsize the news titles. I found a video with the exact declaration of the Ministry, which I will translate here:

VF: This is the law, I believe parents need to be aware of it. Choices of school directors are simply based on Italian laws.
I: Could the Ministry take a stand on the matter?
VF: The Ministry doesn’t have this duty nor this function. We are here talking of laws, related to the well-being of and the responsibilities over children, established by the current law. We need to be careful not to make it become a chance not to abide by the law.
I: What’s your personal opinion? Would you allow your child or grandchild to go home on her own when she’s below 14 years old?
VF: By personal values, I respect rules and laws. One can allow kids to experiment with autonomy at home, and not necessarily in the school-home relationship.
I: So you grandchildren…
VF: (laughs) Well they’ll come home with the grandparents, for now they are too young. Can I add it’s a great pleasure for grandparents to pick up their grandchildren? I think it’s a great thing, I wish I could do that.
(please take into account this is an unprofessional and unofficial translation)

When I first read the news on the newspaper I was livid. I even tweeted to the Ministry:

[ENG: "SURE, since we are all housewives or with healthy grandparents, happy to babysit for free. 2017 in #Italy]

[ENG: .@valeriafedeli listen to yourself. I'm horrified these words come from a working (?) woman]

Dear Ministry Fedeli, after listening to your actual words, I want to publicly apologise for my reaction. You didn't say what the newspapers wrote and that was what inflamed my reaction towards you. However, I would like to comment on this law and on the Ministry's responsibility.

This law is a disaster. It's idiotic, not aligned with the reality of current times, and incredibly damaging to the country and women's rights. We cannot build a society on the assumption that the grandparents will take care of the public services we are missing. Most families have a double income and these tasks always fall on the shoulders of women, virtually making it impossible for them to work full-time, let alone have a career. ISTAT has found out that less than 50% women in Italy work, this means we have approximately 25% of the Italian working-age population not working, not paying taxes, not contributing to the pension system, and with no welfare guarantees for their later years. If the pension system is in crisis now, think in 20 years.

I understand school directors, they are doing the right thing. I don't understand you, though. You are the same person who demanded to be called Ministra, as the word Ministro (Ministry) was male-gendered in Italian. I would expect you to be an advocate for gender equality and still you were so cold when commenting the matter. It sounded like "It's not my problem". But wait, are we sure it isn't? When you have millions of educated women who are put in the conditions to choose family or work (guess what they choose) because of wrong State policies, isn't that a problem for the Ministry of Education? Isn't that wasting all efforts the Ministry puts into investing resources in education? Beside that, aren't you in an excellent position to advocate for a change and have a positive influence?

This law sums up with several other failing policies to ostracise women into their working career. It makes it impossible to work. Dear Ministry, this is the reason why I left Italy. Even ten years ago I knew I could either be a mother or a woman with a career, and I didn't want to choose. Please don't force any more Italian woman to.

Paola Elefante

Digital Scaling Project Manager at Plan International. Proud mother & wife. Shameless nerd&geek. Feminist. Undercover gourmet.

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