Non Una Di Meno (Bologna) – “Together we gain strength to change what is wrong with society”

“Striking is a political act. When we strike we take control, together we gain strength to change what is wrong with society” – Interview with activists Laura, Lorenza and Nora of Non Una di Meno from Bologna, Italy

Europe has witnessed a significant reorientation towards the right. Racist tendencies, a glorification of the form of the “traditional family” and the oppression of women and queers are at the core of many right-wing and neoconservative politics. Italy has not been left untouched. For example, since Matteo Salvini of the Lega Nord became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, anti-immigration, neo-nationalist and anti-queer opinions have been back in fashion. The security decree promoted primarily by Salvini in 2019 denies NGO ships that rescue people who cross the Mediterranean sea access to Italian ports. Also in terms of reproductive choice the situation has worsened, as the right to free and safe abortions has become more limited. Non Una Di Meno is the trans*feminist response that grew out of a need to oppose the social inequality that women* and LGBTQI* people still experience. Since 2016 it has become a countrywide movement that is voicing the opinions of those who are not in power. 

Arianna de Julio interviewed the three activists Laura, Lorenza and Nora of Non una di Meno Bologna on the topics of organising, striking and the presumed North and South gap in Italy.

Arianna: The first question that I would like to ask you concerns the difference between the perception of women’s rights in Northern and Southern Italy. Have you had the opportunity to meet people who have worked with Non Una Di Meno (NUDM) who came from Southern Italy and then had the opportunity to experience NUDM in Bologna?

Laura: Obviously this is a complex country, with very different perspectives in different regions. When it comes to the difference between Naples and Bologna, in my opinion it is a bit difficult to make a general assumption, but I think we have a favourable situation in Bologna due to a number of factors. First of all, Bologna is a city that has historically experienced numerous struggles and strong social movements. The history and impact of those struggles can be seen in everyday life, but also in our NUDM assemblies or in the university organizations that have strong local ties.

“If we talk about a more general issue of the so-called ‘feminine condition’, I, as a Sicilian, don’t see a difference.”

To me the Southern issue is more a question of services that are lacking. Generally speaking, the South is poorer, citizens have less privileges and more difficulties on several levels that affect the issues we are dealing with here. But I don’t think you can be so clear-cut about differences between North and South.

Lorenza: To give you an example, in Bologna, people who take part in assemblies are mostly limited to people with a certain background, perhaps graduates or students. For some it is difficult to understand a type of person who, probably for personal reasons, does not have the opportunity to join and be involved in the assemblies. However, such limitations are more likely in southern regions – although there are still many NUDM regional branches.  It is still hard in the South of Italy to gain a foothold in terms of access to economic resources.

Laura: Our aim has become to create a countrywide collective movement that can be accessible in cities not only in the North but also in the South and in the more peripheral regions. It is not a simple task, even for the cities of the North. However, we should keep in mind that in Sicily there are no trains, while for example Bologna and Verona have a rail connection. If I want to take part in a strike in one of those cities, I can do so easily.

Nora: I must add that when we created the feminist plan against violence [1] in the assemblies, the topic of the North/South divide did not come up during our discussions. The feminist plan against violence is a publication that combines the movements’ political position and its demands for education, autonomy over our bodies, an end to economic violence and precarity, the right to self-representation and more. Bologna benefits from the fact that it is full of students from all over Italy. This leads to ongoing exchanges, something that probably does not happen a lot at the University of Naples.

Arianna: How much has changed since the demonstration on October 6/7, 2018 which focused on the promotion of free and safe abortion, opposed a bill that includes changes to divorce law, complicating divorce for partners who have minors and supported the feminist anti-violence plan and economic issues such as the right to a minimum wage?

Nora: Before answering your question, I would like to point out that actually the first national NUDM assembly was held in Rome in October 2016. We came up with a demonstration date of November 25th. There we held the first major national demonstration with 200,000 people in the square. The demonstration was about the security decree which criminalised sea rescue and the access to free and safe abortion, amongst other things. Our demands were freedom from stereotypes and imposed social roles, and to establish our feminist plan. Right after this first assembly in Rome we held a NUDM assembly in Bologna. From that moment on we held a series of events and we created tavoli tematici ‘thematic tables’, a format whereby people gather in order to discuss a certain topic or theme. The outcome of our discussions was then developed into a plan. From 2016 to March 2018 we publicly presented the anti-violence plan: this plan was drawn up within about a year, with regular meetings at a national level where the groups were divided into eight tavoli tematici. Returning to your question, we no longer continue to work on the thematic tables, but we have chosen to work on certain areas, keeping in mind that violence is connected to other issues. It was a preparatory demonstration for the implementation of our actions and demands on March 8.

Arianna: Do you hope that the strike can be a form of re-education?   

Nora: Each of us has an opinion on this. I personally held assemblies in the workplace and there we discussed the material conditions of women. According to research into the level of employment in Italy, we still see a gender gap in employment and a wage differential.

“Gender-based discrimination continues.”

Violence has always occurred in the workplace, in the shape of economic violence targeted at marginalized and vulnerable individuals.

Lorenza: The strike is a political process and is not intended to stop production. For me it is a form of reaffirmation, of self-determination, of relating to each other, emphasizing the contradictions that exist in our society.

“The strike is the only tool that can highlight the asymmetries in the distribution of care and reproductive work and how women are exploited for this purpose.”

A beautiful and powerful thing of March 8 was the high level of participation – to see that so many cities in the world simultaneously joined the strike, maintaining their own radicalism. Feminism brings to the surface voices that haven’t been heard before.

Arianna: Now let’s talk about the World Congress of Families XIII (WCF) held in Verona on March 29-30, 2019. What is happening in Italy? What are these pro-family associations? And above all, why is the concept of “traditional” coming back – with a positive connotation? What are the factors that led to this regression?

Nora: Last year (2019) the WCF was held in Italy but in previous years it has also been held in Spain, Moldavia and Hungary. Strong fundamentalist religious groups and extreme right-wing communities unite in this worldwide network. We protested against the “traditional family” as the only concept of family and the passive role of women they support

“We protested against the “traditional family” as the only concept of family and the passive role of women they support.”

The protest “Verona città transfemminista” (Verona transfeminist city”) we brought to Verona at the end of March 2019 was a great response to the WCF and was supported by that part of Italian society that wanted to say a firm and profound no to this network. We know that we are dealing with issues that we must oppose. They want to respond to economic crises and feminist movements by pushing back women and reintroducing a concept of family that is functional to the system. In their opinion it is the family that should take on social reproduction completely without any burden on the state because it is all free reproduction work.

Arianna: So if we wanted to determine a particular event that made Italian public opinion shift towards the right, we would not be able to do so?

Laura: The damage has been caused more by a radical change in politics than in culture.

“It must be said that not only in Europe but also in Latin America we are seeing a very strong return of the right.”

Lorenza: It seems to me that these right-wing politics represent the power of the Western white male. The family is the fulcrum from which these dynamics come. The problem that has arisen in Verona is that the leftist movements have not expressed their dissent loudly enough.

Nora: According to those conservatives the family is the foundation. It is the place where stereotypical identities and gender roles are created. It is a worldview that supports the hierarchical and patriarchal structure of society and aims to assimilate these hierarchical ideas of society into the idea of what the “basic family” should look like.

Arianna: In conclusion, I speak on behalf of young people. There is a desire not to suffer and be dominated by the environment we are living in. Is there hope for Italy and for women thanks to NUDM?

Nora: At the moment NUDM is one of the strongest movements and political bodies that exists in Italy. NUDM brings thousands and thousands of people to the streets, a number that no one else is able to mobilize.

“It manages to give voice to a big part of society that is not politically organized.”

In the case of Verona, NUDM was able to organize a huge mobilization and to give a strong response to what was said at the WCF congress. It has managed to prevent other political bodies such as the Partitio Democratico, the Democratic Party from trivializing opposition to the WCF. We have given a much clearer message. I personally believe that this movement will continue for a long time. It is also not a separatist feminist movement and there is a desire for profound change. In the past in Italy it was difficult to say ‘I am feminist’. Today it’s a little less difficult and that is already a great change.

[1] NUDM (2019). Abbiamo un piano

The interview was conducted by Arianna de Julio via Skype on May 15, 2019 in Italian and translated by her into English. The full version of this interview is available in English.

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