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Reportage. Women and men marched in a national demonstration the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1970s.

A crowd of 200,000 march against gender violence in Rome

The demonstrator is leaning against a fender, wearing heavy framed glasses sliding down her nose and heavy makeup, in shorts and black socks. She is holding a sign with an easy air and a cigarette in her hand. On it, she simply wrote: “If I don’t give it to you, don’t take it.”

Among the crowd, many unsettling things of this kind can be seen, small, large, individual, collective, grouped together: a flood made up of many, many waves, each one unique. According to the organizers, 200,000 people marched Saturday through the streets of Rome, 90 percent of them women, a human mass with so much complexity. A mass that circulates through everyday life, but it is dispersed and badly lit, unlike Saturday when it came down in bulk to win the stage. It was the largest feminist demonstration since the ‘70s. This time, it earned the compliments of the police commissioner for the organization.

In summary, free and freedom were the most popular words. The event “Not One Less,” led by anti-violence groups, was convened against feminicide. It aimed to take a cultural shot of the entire society for the recognition of women’s self-determination, and to ask the government, the state — from the judiciary to the doctors and the police — and the media to no longer take an antediluvian, sexist approach to the problem of violence against women.

The slogan of the women from Perugia and Terni are: “Violence is not love,” “Patriarchy gets by with the rapture of the press.” There are references to the wrong, warped, backward narrative by the media, the need for an update of the linguistic codes to talk about women and abuse.

Then, as always when talking about certain issues, sexuality, procreation, desires, relationships and roles come up, everything intersects and unfolds in stories, but the lines of reasoning are clear; they do not get tangled.

Among the first to arrive to the demonstration in Piazza Esedra are Paolo and Diana, a couple in their 30s from Livorno and Pavia. He is the target of many pictures because of his red hair and fuchsia sign, with a feminist symbol and the inscription: “Let’s educate better men.” And he really believes it: “I do not think it depends only on women to gain respect, and I hope it will be natural for me to teach it to a daughter or a son. I was fortunate to have a father who retired early and cooked our meals and met with my teachers. Beating machismo also depends on what male models can transmit.”

Diana is quite optimistic: “I do not know if the younger generation is better, if I think of the sounding board of social media it makes me think that we are going to worse, but then in front of an event so big and beautiful, it is understood that awareness is spreading.”

A little further on, Matteo, 22, carries a little obscene sign: “I wash the dishes,” as if it were a gesture to be proud of. “But I wash so many!” he apologizes to the representatives of Mantova Arci.

The men, more or less young, are relegated behind the rig hired by the Roman Committee, Io Decido, “I decide,” which organized the national march together with Udi and DiRe. It divides almost in half the stream of protesters. Immediately behind the truck that issues press releases and soap bubbles, a Roman girl, Laura, carries on her shoulders a cardboard box on which she penned quickly her response in green: “On this day, many men are publicly supportive. Then comes tomorrow, when they close the doors and raise their hands.”

There is creativity in spades. Apart from the usual street bands, brass groups and capoeira drums, in addition to the choreography of dancers on stilts, to the cockades “I am mine,” the silhouette of dolls with names of dead women, there is also a theater on wheels of the bar-library Tuba del Pigneto. The fifth is a vagina with a strobe ball on top. From time to time, someone’s head pops out to recite a poem or a song, by Carla Lonzi or Audre Lorde.

The most curious and meaningful messages are still the small, hand-made signs, like messages in the bottle. The strangest thing: “My fabulousness is not an invitation to comment.” While a blonde turns around frantically raising her sign that paraphrases “Not One Less.” In other words: “Not a euro less — my job is as good as that of a man.”

The fabulous coalition of 300 from Bologna — under the name “transfeminist queer and anti-fascist” — exhibits in the street its Sfertiliy Game. They focused primarily on the defense of Law 194, in addition to scientific research on what they call “the subversion of the female imagination,” essentially claiming the right to a sexuality free from alleged procreative obligations. It seems many girls aged 20 to 35 years attend their workshops on “gender panic.” And from the discussion, it turned out that the strike of Polish women against the law proposal that erased the possibility of an abortion and the similar movement in Argentina were heard as a wake-up call for Italy to raise awareness and awaken the struggle for rights.

The other issue most mentioned in the march was abortion, the battle against Law 194 by conscientious objection and freedom against male stereotypes and brutality. The chant resounded at every intersection: “The objectors are not doctors.” And these topics concentrate the worst criticism against the government, in particular against minister Lorenzin and her annual plan for promotion of fertility that does not find troubling the increasingly frequent cases of very young girls who become mothers, mostly in the South.

Another issue that causes friction with the government is the funding for women’s shelters. Maria Marinelli, from a shelter in Latina, summarizes the situation: “The minister attends only the technical meetings. The regions hold the money in their coffers, and the centers are always at risk of closure.” There, a woman who tries to get out of domestic abuse has a banner hand embroidered with flowers: “Love does not kill.” “We want the centers to be managed by real associations, who treat women not as sick or users, based on our criteria,” they say.

The network of 77 DiRe centers criticizes the lack of safe houses. But in the crowd of the march, there is also a small banner by a delegation of the National Council of Psychologists. “We have different positions. We think that given the reflections of ill-treatment on the welfare of women and their children, it is a woman’s right to be assisted by public welfare,” says a psychologist of the emergency room of Cagliari. A colleague tries to mediate: “It is good that the last mile, that is, the path to the safe house, is performed by women’s associations, but the network to be integrated, institutional and operational.”

The world fighting gender violence is very large. What we saw for the first time in the streets Saturday, has existed for some time. The women of “If Not Now, When” from Osimo compared it to the demonstration that marked the end of Berlusconi: “Back then it was a gut reaction. Now there is a lot more preparation and organization. We are united.”

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