Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 16:16 UK

Why Italy's women are out of work

By Emma Wallis
BBC News, Rome

Women members of Italy's three main trade unions
Female employment is 12% lower in Italy than the EU average
The economy is one of the big issues in the forthcoming general election in Italy.

Some are questioning why in particular the country has one of the lowest rates of women's employment in the European Union.

Why is there so much female unemployment in one of Europe's most developed countries?

Italy has almost the lowest rate of female employment in the European Union - just 46% of Italian women have jobs, and the figure is even lower in the south of the country.

Italy's Minister for European Affairs Emma Bonino believes that getting women into work would help revive the country's economy.

"We have six million women, more or less, who do not have access to a job or are not looking for one anymore," she told BBC World Service's Analysis programme.

"In any country, if you had six million men out of the job market, it would be an emergency. In Italy you have six million women and, apparently, it is thought to be normal."


The state of the economy is likely to be one of the key issues in the election in a few days.

And Italian economist Fiorella Kostoris says that the current state of insufficient growth means many more women are needed in the economy.

Campaigner for women's rights in the workplace
It is important that women understand what is happening to them, and take the strength publicly to say it is unacceptable
Emma Bonino
European affairs minister

She says the jobs are available, but the demand is not effective because women are not seen as good candidates.

"Provided there was a fight against discrimination towards women - in particular in the south - there would be a demand for them," she added.

"And there would be a supply, because of the female unemployment."

She argues that a few hundred thousand women working could increase the country's GDP by 1% - so an extra five million could make a huge difference.

It is not so much about creating new jobs as opening up jobs to women who are already skilled and wanting to work.

"Segregation exists - and if you maintain this level of segregation then probably there are no jobs for women," she said.

"There might be some jobs for unskilled women - but don't forget that in Italy, women are more skilled than men."


In order to work out how to get these women into the job market, it is important to understand why they are unemployed.

Traditionally, women are absent from the workforce in order to have children - but Italy has an exceptionally low birth rate too.

"In Italy, family and domestic responsibility fall almost completely on women's shoulders," say RAI news' Mariella Zezza, who broadcasts a programme about the role of Italian women in society.

Model MariaCarla Boscono
There are calls for Italy's media to show more than glamour girls
Because "family" in Italy refers to extended family, even women without children might give up looking for work to look after elderly relatives.

Surveys show that a typical Italian woman dedicates five hours a day to the house, while men just one.

"Women have children when they feel they are capable of taking care of themselves. Women who are worried about their future won't ever have children, so we have to break this vicious circle," Ms Zezza says.

"We need to get our politicians to think not just about women, but about the family as a whole," she said.

"We need to offer tax incentives to women, and the state should think about what mothers who work need. They should build more nurseries, for example."

Ms Zezza also says the Italian media is dominated by images of scantily clad women and dancing girls.

She believes these stereotypes need to be changed to increase female employment; by highlighting some of Italy's prize-winning female scientists, for example, or female prosecutors of the Mafia.

Better access

Meanwhile, Ms Bonino is seeking to put political pressure on companies - and the national broadcaster RAI - to put more women on their boards, and thus apply changes from the top down.

Currently, only 5% of senior managerial positions are held by women.

However, Italy's CBI, the Confindustria, has recently appointed a woman at its helm - and this, along with the fact that other southern European countries have changed, gives Ms Bonino hope.

"Spain has changed course, showing it can be done," she says.

"Even Greece has bigger access to the job market for women. It is important that women understand what is happening to them, and take the strength publicly to say it is unacceptable.

"Otherwise, nobody will just grant them anything."

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Country profile: Italy
06 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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