Within the Agenda for Sustainable Development, among the 17 goals to be achieved by 2030, Goal 5 is focused on "achieving gender equality" while Goal 10 is specific to "reducing inequalities ".

The first question that naturally arises is what unites the concept of sustainable development with that of gender equality and the reduction of inequalities. The intertwining lies in the fact that sustainable development is not just any form of economic development but must be economic development that is fair. From a cultural point of view, this is a relatively new idea: for the first time, with the 2030 Agenda to be precise, the principle of interdependence between economic and ethical elements is established, in a perspective that recognizes the close relationship between the first - that is, the world of facts - and the second - that is, the world of values.

For the first time, with the 2030 Agenda, the principle of interdependence between economic and ethical elements is established

The existence of this relationship was certainly not unknown before 2015, but the principle has since been indicated as one of the main drivers of action within the international community. A sustainable society is therefore one in which traditional economic objectives, such as the promotion of productive activities, increase in employment, wages, etc. exist alongside those of an ethical nature, that is, social justice, poverty reduction made possible through inclusiveness and the value of differences and equal opportunities between genders.

A second equally legitimate question is how close or far we really are to gender equality today. The answer is certainly not encouraging, neither globally nor regionally. Given the current situation, it is estimated that, proceeding at the current pace, it would take 135.6 years to bridge the gender gap worldwide even if, of course, the situation varies significantly from country to country. Although no country has yet achieved this parity, some prove to be more virtuous than others: Iceland and Finland, for example, have covered 85% of their gap and seven others - Lithuania, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Rwanda and Ireland - are around the 80% mark. Again on a global level, the situation worsens as one ascends to senior professional roles: of the 156 countries examined, women represent only 26.1% of approximately 35,500 parliamentary positions and only 22.6% of around 3,400 ministers worldwide. In 81 countries there has never been a female head of state. At this rate, the World Economic Forum calculates that it will take 145.5 years to close the gap at the highest professional levels.

If we deal more specifically with the European Union, the differences in and between genders persist and in some domains are even greater than ten years ago. With an average score of 67.9 (regarding gender equality) the EU is still far from achieving complete parity. Also here the differences that exist between each country must be taken into consideration.

Consequently, the third question that arises spontaneously is, “What is the situation in our country?” but here too the data is far from positive, especially since the emergence of the pandemic that has highlighted already existing criticalities. Despite the numerous steps forward made globally, Italian women have much more difficulty than men in accessing the world of work, receiving salaries consistent with their skills and in reaching top positions in the professional field. If, on a global level, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden hold the top positions, Italy is in 76th place with a score of 0.707 between Thailand and Suriname losing, among other things in 2021, 6 positions compared to the previous year although this was mainly due to the pandemic. In terms of wage parity, we are in 125th place among the 156 countries examined. The low employment levels of Italian women correspond to the difficulty in managing time and the double role of breadwinner and parent. Their full-time equivalent employment rate is 31%, their average monthly pay is nearly a fifth lower than that of men whereby women earn an average of 18% less. According to the National Labour Inspectorate, 24,618 women resigned in 2018 in order to provide for their children. An exorbitant number of women workers forced to resign as a result of the high costs of pre-school care, the almost total absence of welfare services and the lengthening of professional life which has made the involvement of grandparents in childcare difficult. What makes this picture even more unforgiving is the comparison with the number of men forced to resign in the same period of time: 7,859 resigning fathers, of which only 2,250 were motivated by family and not strictly professional reasons.

Also on a European level, Italy is one of the countries where gender disparity seems to have a more widespread impact. The data collected by Eurostat (European Statistical Office) demonstrates that before the pandemic, in 2019, at EU level, female employment had stood at 67.3%. At the top of the ranking, the results of Iceland and Sweden shone, with 83% and 79.7% respectively of the female population between 20 and 64 years active in the world of work. The last position was occupied by Greece, with a percentage of female workers equal to 51.3%, slightly above Italy, with a female employment rate of 53.8%. At the bottom of the ranking were also Cyprus, Malta, Turkey and North Macedonia.

The situation is all the more remarkable if we consider the excellent scholastic results obtained by the female component of the Italian population. An ISTAT (Italian National Institute of Statistics) report on education levels and employment figures in 2019 made it possible to shed light on the characteristics of the Italian school population. The data highlighted a contradiction that indicates how discrimination is a criticality determined by deep endogenous causes. In fact, on closer inspection women in Italy are more educated than men: 64.5% of them have a high school diploma compared to 59.8% of men while 22.4% of the female population of working age have a degree compared to only 16.8% of the male population. However, by moving the magnifying glass on employment returns, a clear reversal of the trend can be seen. 56.1% of women work compared to 76.8% of men, although the occupational disadvantage is reduced as the level of education increases. Therefore, women with lower educational qualifications would suffer the most adverse effects of gender discrimination. In any case, the presence of women still decreases as the hierarchical level increases. Istat analyses therefore highlight both horizontal and vertical discrimination in the labour market.

On a European level, Italy is one of the countries where gender disparity seems to have a more widespread impact

With the pandemic, the situation has clearly worsened since Covid has amplified the asymmetry existing between men and women, who have found themselves having to manage remote work in family situations with the burden often on their shoulders. Istat data leaves no room for doubt: in December 2020, of 101,000 layoffs, 99,000 involved women, 98%. This data which is already dramatic, takes on an even more emblematic value taking into consideration those relative to the whole of 2020: of the 444,000 fewer employed persons registered in Italy throughout 2020, 70% are in fact made up of women. And here we have an image of a country that continues to deal with the endemic scourge of gender discrimination. The problems therefore, were already present and Covid-19 has made them even more evident: victims of ancient stereotypes and a still strongly sexist conception of society, Italian women seem to be relegated to jobs characterized by low salary levels and ridiculous contractual protection regardless of education levels. It is evident, then, how the high rate of female unemployment generated by the pandemic is the result of problems that go well beyond the health emergency. The structural causes of female segregation have to do with problems of a cultural nature that are difficult to eradicate and for which it is necessary to think deeply in order to act in the best possible way.


Elena Dundovich, University of Pisa

Turin, mural by Camilla Falsini dedicated to Christine de Pizan, born in 1364, poetess, writer and feminist philosopher, is recognized in Europe as the first professional female writer

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