Italy has always differed from its European neighbors in their treatment of women. The seat of Catholicism regarded women if not the property, then certainly unquestioning supporters of their husband. By the early 1900s women began making gains in equality, joining the workforce in numbers large enough to somewhat displace the man from their role as the traditional head of the family. Those gains were largely erased when the Fasci party came into power, led by Benito Mussolini.
On this day, May 12, in 1928, in a speech to the senate, Mussolini announced a number of reforms to the government, and chief among them the end to women’s suffrage. New laws also restricted the right to vote to only men aged 21 and over, who would also have to pay syndicate rates or taxes of 100 lire — no small amount in those days.
After Mussolini’s and Fascism’s fall, Italian women campaigned for rights with equal fervor to their American counterparts, but did not get as far. Italy’s current leader Silvio Berlusconi is a well-known and devoted womanizer, and his attitude percolates through Italian society as a whole. As Italian author Lorella Zanardo noted in a recent interview with TIME magazine “Women on television are treated like pieces of prosciutto.”