Geppi Calcara, a Sicilian archivist, was there with her friend and 11-year-old daughter “because we’re tired of our children living in a society of non-values,” she said. “We find it really difficult to bring up our children with the values they’re learning.”
Behind her, the Piazza del Popolo in Rome was filling up with tens of thousands of women and many men who had arrived with their wives or girlfriends.
“There are lots of us, but we’re not visible,” Calcara said.
“The privately owned TV channels, which belong to [Silvio] Berlusconi, and all but one of the [state-owned] RAI channels, manipulate the news. So people know nothing, or only half, of what is happening,” she said.
On Sunday, Italians dismayed by the prime minister and his antics got a chance to show their feelings in a way that even his television network found difficult to ignore. Thousands of them assembled in piazzas from the foothills of the Alps to the tip of Sicily and in cities from Auckland to Zurich.
“We’re more than a million across the world,” actor Angela Finocchiaro told the crowd in the Piazza del Popolo.
Though that claim may be disputed, there was plenty of evidence to suggest the numbers ran to several hundreds of thousands.
The posters for the demonstration proclaimed it was being held in support of “a country that respects women.”
That the need should be felt for such a protest in Europe, 11 years into the 21st century is, in part at least, evidence of the impact of Berlusconi and his media empire.
Last week, the 74-year-old prime minister learned that prosecutors had asked for his indictment on charges of paying an underage sex worker and abusing his official position when she was arrested. He denies any wrongdoing.
His Mediaset network has for years thrived on glitzy variety programs and quiz shows that feature so-called veline — young, pretty women in scanty costumes, whose most demanding duty in most cases is to hold up a score card. RAI also uses veline and both networks reflect attitudes in society as much as create them.
The posters for the demonstration were printed on a pink background without anyone apparently thinking that was patronizing.
Unlike Spain, Italy has not been altered by the change in relations between the sexes, so the words for positions of authority — chief, minister, lawyer and so on — have no feminine forms.
According to the World Economic Forum’s latest global gender gap report, Italy ranked 74th out of 134 countries surveyed — 33 places below Kazakhstan.
It scored particularly badly on economic participation and opportunity. Less than half of Italian women have a job and the notion that they should not return to paid work after having a child is widespread.
Leaked documents from the inquiry into Berlusconi’s private life are shot through with indications that aspiring showgirls are expected to give sexual favors.
Romanian-born Liliana Popa, who married an Italian, said she had come to protest at “the spread of a warped idea of relations between men and women.”
“I want a society in which women are judged on merit and not on their degree of availability to men,” Popa said.
Other protesters had a simpler agenda.
Carola D’Angelo, a sports events organizer, said: “I’m fed up with this government.”