Italian firm selects only women for pink slips

Phoebe Connelly
The Lookout

This won't do much to reverse the coverage Italy has lately received in the global press for the nation's persistently patriarchal and sexist cultural outlook: Ma-Vib, an engineering firm outside of Milan, has chosen only its female employees in a recent round of layoffs.

"We are firing the women so they can stay at home and look after the children. In any case, what they bring in is a second income," Ma-Vib officials reportedly told Italy's small business administration, according to the UK Guardian. Italy has the lowest female employment rate in all of the European Union. And according to the World Economic Forum's 2010 Gender Gap Report, Italy ranks 74th globally in women's rights, the New Yorker reports.

Ma-Vib is a family-owned company that manufactures electric fans and blowers for air-conditioning and heating units. Before the layoffs, the firm employed 12 men and 18 women; it then dismissed all but three of its female employees, the Guardian reports. When the Italian engineering union called for a strike in protest, only one of the company's male employees joined the picket line.

The antics of Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi, who is accused of paying an underage woman for sex and using his influence to get her released from a shoplifting charge, have lent new immediacy to longstanding questions about the status of women in Italy. The charges came to light last November, and in February, hundreds of thousands of women took to the street in Rome and 200 other Italian cities to protest Berlusconi's behavior--as well as what they say is a sexist culture.  "It's a scandal. I do not believe in his values, his behavior and the way he treats women. Italy doesn't have a future if these are the values that sustain us," Paolo Campedel, who attended a rally in Padua in northern Italy, told Reuters.

You can watch footage of the February protests, courtesy the AP below:

In a June 6 piece for the New Yorker, Ariel Levy reported on how the complex intersection of personal conduct and political priorities in the Berlusconi case has re-awakened the issue of Italian women's rights. "When I was Minister of European Affairs, in 2007, I had to prepare a report on the status of women in Italy," Radical Party leader Emma Bonino told Levy. "The data came in, and I remember that I rejected it twice, saying to my staff, 'That's impossible: it cannot be so bad.' "

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