Due to some personal and professional blessings in disguise this year, I luckily found myself in my home country over the summer months, giving me the opportunity to celebrate with my comrades Italy’s Republic Day on the 2nd of June. And it is this theme that I chose to discuss this month – specifically the role of women and their introduction into the schooling system.
Women held a leading role in the birth of Italy’s Constitution: they actively participated in the country’s battle for freedom from Fascism and Nazism; for democracy; for woman’s right to vote and, consequently, mobilized themselves to convince their fellow female citizens to exercise this newly found right which came through in 1946. These accomplishments lead to crucial changes in the very fibers of Italy; its social structures, values, lifestyle and laws. A common thread flows through the laws passed in 1950 – one giving voice to the individual through her social inclusion, her recognition in the work place, her fight against discrimination and the value of family ties. These laws allude to an inclusive welfare system, which takes into consideration the role of every individual in the country’s economic development, appreciating its man-and-womanpower. Moreover, they outline a citizenship dynamic, which must for everyone encompass social, civil and political responsibilities no matter the vulnerability of the individual – a dynamic, therefore, which highlights the importance of the common good, inter-personal relations and the sharing of values and responsibilities as a population.
What marked women’s social, political and economic leap forward in Italy was their access to education. Rendering education mandatory and opening up the system to both same-sex as well as mixed schools finally gave women the opportunity to demonstrate their intellectual abilities, leading them towards a new type of socialization and granting them the tools needed to continue their fight for equal rights.
Fascism left Italy’s women with a lower attendance rate; with gender segregated classes; with the humiliating exclusion of female professors from teaching Italian and Philosophy and from management roles in academic institutions; and with a massive disparity in terms of wages when compared to their male colleagues. However, on the 4th of June 1944, on the day in which the Americans arrived in the capital of a country that was still divided and in the process of welcoming a new government, a decree was passed which annihilated fascist laws. No one expected that these changes would have impacted the status of women and education as they did: the Constituent Assembly, where 21 women would be elected, fought for the legal parity of the sexes, the mandatory nature of school for every individual until the age of 14 and the right to education for all, in so doing, nurturing the equal democratic incentive brought forth in the Constitution.
The 60s witnessed the resurfacing of education as pivotal for the Republic, both on an international plane marked with groundbreaking research, as well as on a national plane where education was employed as a strategy for development. Investments aimed at public education doubled between 1962 and 1968, reaching 21 percent of the national budget. Consequently, in its first decade as Republic, Italy’s focus becomes the reduction of illiteracy rates, specifically amongst women. Prior, two thirds of women were considered illiterate – a rate which declined between 1951 and 1961 from 15 percent to 10 percent (that of males declined from10 to 6.6 percent). Having made schooling mandatory for everyone until the age of 14, women are able to not only continue proving their intellectual capabilities, but also spurs them to continue further, greatly increasing female registration to both secondary school and University.
Universities in the 70s were met with a new wave of feminism, born in part from the public’s dependence on social gender roles, and fueled by the reality of the male-lead politics. These times yielded to new relationships between technology, culture and civil education, which would change the way people related to one another and changed how they perceived social structures, an individual’s relationship with the Government, as well as the role of education in one’s life.
In the 80s, education – represented by teachers, students and parents – unified the population; assemblies and discussions on the curriculum and class registrations allowed parents to be a part of the school system, in so doing expanding civil relations across generations (students and parents/teachers). In a historical period in which families were very much abandoned by and felt insecure about the education of their children, the public now was being furnished with a completely different and more participatory perspective. The true benefits of these new relations were, at times, dubious, but one thing was for certain: for mothers and female teachers, their inclusion in discussions was a second phase of politicization of women after the right to vote.
Despite offering a platform for the politicization of gender, schools and Universities only enabled discussions on the theme of equal opportunities between genders in so far as their traditional outlook on the matter. Feminist groups expected academic structures to take the responsibility of discussing gender discrimination; however, pragmatism would much rather schools veer on the side of maintaining – consciously or unconsciously – tradition; a “female-oriented” curriculum of study for females; gender stereotypes; and, consequently, a lack of information on the condition of women. This would then spur revolution, rendering institutions the arenas in which the female entity as concept mutated. However, unfortunately, the schooling system never actually explained to its students how and why this mutation occurred, evading active discussions on gender equality. To this day, the problem remains that academic institutions measure only what women have produced in the years – in the sciences and arts – rather than invokeits students to process how history has impacted their lives in terms of equality.
At a time in which recruitment is diminishing as means to facilitate the growth of technology in schools, human relations are suffering unjustly.It is impossible and unthinkable to substitute direct human interaction, personalization of messaging, the link between past and present, the development of an analytical attitude to matter with pure technology and electronic communication. For this reason, it is necessary for us to maintain education as a link between generations, between families and the schooling structure, between public and private for it is in that fusion that the concept of feminism developed.