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Salvemini Colloquium in Italian History and Culture

"Nothing Changed," Yet Nothing Was the Same: On the 70th Anniversary of Italian Women’s Suffrage


October 20, 2016
5:30pm - 7:00pm
Lower Level Conference Room, Busch Hall
October 20, 2016
5:30pm - 7:00pm
Lower Level Conference Room, Busch Hall

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Italian Republic, Professor Nadia Urbinati will discuss the role of women in the political sphere.

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The decreto luogotenenziale n. 23 of February 1st, 1945 (“Estensione alle donne del diritto di voto”) extended to Italian women the right to vote. The way in which such a revolutionary decision was made was striking and unique: Italian women became full citizens in a surreal climate of serenity, expedite process, and with no discussion. I will introduce my lecture explaining how it was that almost a century of humiliating denials, ignored petitions, motions rejected by courts, and disparaging comments on women’s political incapacity seemed vanished with a snap of fingers. Of course, reality was more complicated and as Italian women would soon complain, “nothing changed” in fact. The opinions concerning their supposed natural place in the family had not vanished in 1945/46 – we could hear those old refrains few months ago when a pregnant woman competed in Rome’s Mayoral elections, or two years ago, when Federica Mogherini was appointed High Commission for Foreign Affairs of the European Union. Could a pregnant woman take care of the public good and could a woman lead a European strategic office?

Yet it is a fact that in 1945/46 these embedded prejudices did not have enough strength to block political inclusion. Something had happened that made discriminatory opinions, if not vanish away, certainly unable to determine political decision: the conviction was unanimous among men that women had “deserved” suffrage as never before, that their contribution in the war of liberation from Nazi-fascism could not simply be ignored. Starting from women’s “exceptional contribution” to the war of Resistance, in my lecture I will argue that Italy’s democratic history can be interpreted as a document of women’s strenuous and never successful attempt to overcome the belief that they have to deserve political freedom. Italian women’s claim for political inclusion can thus be seen as an enduring beginning of parity democracy, an unfinished contestation of men’s monopoly of public spaces.

A reception will follow the lecture from 7-8 p.m. in the CES Atrium.

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