After the victory of Fratelli d'Italia in the 2022 Italian general election, a radical-right government was formed, headed by party leader Giorgia Meloni. Alessia Donà explores gender issues in FdI ideology, and the party’s alliance with the Italian anti-gender movement. She finds the Meloni government is founded on reactionary Catholic extremism
Wednesday 8 March is International Women’s Day. Its aim is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Today, for the first time in the history of the Republic, a female Prime Minister leads Italy. Sadly, however, this does not represent a progressive turning point towards full gender equality in the country.
Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy, or FdI) belongs to a family of radical-right political parties. It promotes the core radical-right features of nationalism, authoritarianism and conservatism. Such parties promote the idea that a nation is an ethnically homogeneous community, built around the ‘natural’ family unit. FdI thus strongly associates the defence of the nation with the defence of the family. It defines 'family' as the union between a man and a woman with children.
Radical-right parties are increasingly engaging with women’s and gender issues. Their ideology might express a ‘neo-traditional’ or a ‘modern-traditional’ vision of gender roles, or a combination of both. In the case of FdI, the latter applies. The party manifesto promotes female participation in the labour market, and promises the recognition of equal pay for equal work. It champions the protection of maternity rights, improvements to childcare facilities, and the adoption of pronatalist policies.
For example, the party's 2017 manifesto, boldly entitled The Thesis of Trieste, called for Italians to (re)discover, learn and transmit traditional values. These values, FdI claimed, would strengthen Italians' sense of national belonging.
According to Fratelli d'Italia, 'traditional' values include the natural family, and the centrality of Christianity
According to FdI, traditional values include the natural family as the basis of society, and the centrality of Christianity. Amid a declining Italian birthrate, FdI emphasises the urgency of what it calls a ‘revolutionary welfare reform’ that places the family at its heart.
As Meloni herself has claimed, ‘God, homeland and family are the cornerstone of the FdI agenda’. No surprise, then, that FdI supports policies aimed at restoring traditional gender roles, defending the heterosexual family, and fostering measures to prevent abortion. Moreover, the party positions itself against so-called gender ideology. It wants to delegitimise gender equality and undermine LGBT+ rights. According to their detractors, such rights herald ‘the destruction of the natural family and traditional gender roles’.
FdI, together with its centre-right coalition partner Lega, radicalised its anti-gender positions after same-sex civil unions became legal in 2016. Leaders of both parties spoke at the 2019 World Congress of Families in Verona.
The Congress is one of the main activities of the International Organization for the Family. IOF is a Christian fundamentalist movement with connections across many countries. Its main goal is the defence of the ‘natural family’ against the recognition of LGBT+ rights. It also calls for more conservative school programmes on gender/sex education. The Congress attracts influential anti-abortion, pro-family and religious-conservative actors from all over the world.
Meloni supports anti-abortion initiatives, and opposes measures to safeguard gender identity rights
Advocacy groups influential on the Meloni government include the Pro-Life & Family Association, Defending Our Children and Generation Family. Giorgia Meloni supported these organisations' anti-abortion and anti-gender initiatives. She also opposed, within and outside parliament, any measures to safeguard sexual orientation and gender identity rights.
In October 2019, Meloni concluded her speech with the words ‘My name is Giorgia. I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am Christian’. In so doing, she expressed clearly the core aspects of FdI ideology: nationalism, religion and conservatism.
The Meloni government includes a number of Catholic extremists. For example, she appointed the ultra-Catholic conservative Eugenia Roccella as Minister for Family, Natality and Equal Opportunities – a post previously known simply as Minister for Equal Opportunities. Rocella seeks to increase the Italian birthrate, and to give Italian women 'the right not to have an abortion', as Meloni called it during her election campaign.
Roccella is well known for her anti-abortion position, defending traditional family values promoted by Catholic associations. Among her first measures in the job was the decision to maintain the terms ’father’ and ‘mother’ based on biological parenthood instead of the gender-neutral ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’, despite Italian courts ruling otherwise.
FdI wants to prohibit public schools offering any instruction 'related to sexual orientation or gender identity'
Giuseppe Valditara is Meloni's Minister of Education and Merit. He defines himself as a neo-conservative whose aim is to fight what he claims is the damaging progressive cultural hegemony in society and the school curriculum. To counteract the education system's so-called ‘gender propaganda’, Valditara believes in (heterosexual) parents' right to choose the kind of education given to their children, in accordance with their personal values.
Recently, across many Italian regions and provinces, FdI, together with the Pro-Life & Family Association, proposed bills to defend exclusive parental rights in education. These organisations want to prohibit public schools from offering any classroom instruction 'related to sexual orientation or gender identity'.
Right now, Italy's centre-left opposition parties are weak, and fragmented. Under Meloni's radical-right government, gender equality policies are expected to backslide quickly, and deeply. It has already targeted the legitimacy and effectiveness of existing equality laws: 194/1978 on abortion rights and 76/2016 on same-sex civil union. Moreover, it has promoted measures supporting maternity and demographic growth to preserve the Italian nation and Italy's Christian identity. These could well be just the beginning of a broader conservative turn for Italy.
It's a scenario that recalls Margaret Atwood’s dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale. In the fictional theocratic Republic of Gilead, enslaved women exist only to serve, and to produce children for the ruling class. When a government is inspired by authoritarianism, nationalism and religious fundamentalism, female agency and individuality are constrained and subjugated, women's reproductive rights are suppressed, and gender diversity is denied.