Just for something different, I'm having another face palm day here in Italy. I know right? Life is full of surprises.
I don't know about you but the countries that I have spent the most amount of time living in all have the same problem: a population that is getting older. Some deal with it by trying to entice young, upwardly professionals over, but, immigration being the dirty word that it is now makes that a touchy subject.
Thank God for the Italian government. They've brought ingenuity to the problem.
You see, Italy is chock full of oldies. Oldies that the government tries to throw a pension at and ignore. You see, the mentality is largely, 'here, take your cash but don't come a knocking for any support: you want home care? You can pay for it with that wad you just risked your life withdrawing or, be a good Italian parent and ensure your own children look after you."
Don't worry. The government's ignorance towards its aged citizens is matched only by the contempt it has for its youth. Youth unemployment is currently at 39.2%. No, it's not a typo. 39.2% - with no real hope of improving at least in the forseeable future. [The national figure is 11.4%.] Those that are in work are most likely to be on temporary contracts, or worse, as I can attest, working as independent contractors who, regardless of how little they might be earning, have to pay thousands of euros worth of retirement contributions out of their own pocket in addition to their taxes even if this equates to more than 50% of their salary.
Italian families also have it tough: there's very little in the way of public childcare here: it's mostly a private gig and an out of pocket scenario meaning those grandparents better put aside some cash to make sure there's always a Kinder surprise in the house for those pesky grandchildren.
To address the problem of the growing grey army, the Italian government, in its infinite wisdom, has declared September 22 to be Fertility Day. Basically a stay in and procreate day. This week, it launched a particularly gruesome online campaign right out of the 1950s. The above images respectively translate as: "Beauty has no age but fertility does" and "Fertility is a public asset".
Leaving aside the economic absurdity of straight out encouraging people to have children in a country whose economy is on the brink of collapse [in 2013 more than 90,000 young Italians left Italy in the search for work elsewhere], the campaign has also touched off debate about people - especially women's - right to choose what they want to do with their bodies and the life choices they make. The tone of the government's approach is shockingly old school - basically labeling women as incubators for the public. Additionally, the emphasis on fertility has been perceived as a tactless affront to those with fertility issues, or, construed as a campaign to make people feel guilty about having children later [if at all]. This in a country where most women need to go abroad in order to have fertility treatment if they're having trouble conceiving.
Italians were already weary enough of their government. Growing numbers are rejecting the established parties in favour of the new, populist reactionary groups like Cinque stelle. This kind of propaganda is seen for what it is: an out of touch campaign based on the Italian guilt complex that many grew up with but no longer tolerate.
That it made it through so many levels of government, that so many people clearly worked on it to get it out into the public is incredulous. Did nobody stop to think for a moment the outcry this was going to cause?
Say what you want about Italians, but they're not afraid to share their opinion on things, especially if the topic is divisive. The huge debate that these images and the ideas driving them has created led to reports of the #fertilityday website being shut down last night, just hours after it went live.
The debate though will rage over the coming weeks but the damage has already been done.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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