Italian women hope for workplace changes post-Berlusconi

Tue Feb 14, 2012 9:07am EST
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By Catherine Hornby

ROME (Reuters) - Maria Grazia Fera was looking forward to getting back to work after her first child was born. But three months into her maternity leave, her temporary contract as a teacher for the disabled expired and suddenly, her job was gone.

More than two years later, the 31-year-old is still out of work and often passed over by potential employers now she has a small daughter.

Italian women have long complained of discrimination in the workplace, from employers who fail to respect their maternity rights to a patriarchal society that still thinks their primary role is in the home.

Labor reforms touted by the new government of Prime Minister Mario Monti and public disgust at the sex scandals and macho behavior of his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi may finally change all that.

"Our country is still very backward, culturally and on the services side, when it comes to balancing care roles in the family," Labour Minister Elsa Fornero said in a recent interview in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"We want to achieve this balance and we are pushing for it with great force," she said.

The female employment rate in Italy, at 46 percent, is the lowest in the European Union after Malta, lagging 68 percent for Italian men and a 58 percent average for women in Europe, official data shows.

Italy ranks 74th, below Ghana and Bangladesh, on gender equality, dragged down by its low score for women's economic participation and opportunity, according to the World Economic Forum's 2011 Global Gender Gap Report.   Continued...

<p>Women chat with each other as they protect themselves from the falling snow with umbrellas in front of Rome's ancient Colosseum February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>