The Women's Movements of the United States and Western Europe: Consciousness, Political Opportunity, and Public Policy

By Mary Fainsod Katzenstein; Carol McClurg Mueller | Go to book overview

7
Response to Feminism in the Italian Parliament: Divorce, Abortion, and Sexual Violence Legislation

KAREN BECKWITH

A crucial and troubling question in evaluating the impact of feminist movements concerns the responsiveness of governments to the legislative demands of those movements. To what extent can feminist movements expect to influence non feminist, or even anti feminist, parliaments to produce legislative relief for employment, housing, and education discrimination based on sex; for sexual harassment and violence against women; for inequitable and oppressive economic conditions among women; for women's lack of access to safe contraception and abortion; and for women's inferior status within the family, religious institutions, and the larger society? If parliaments are one of the appropriate arenas in which feminists should militate for change, then how ought we to evaluate the success of feminists who bring pressure upon parliaments?

This essay examines the case of the Italian parliament and its responsiveness to the demands of the Italian feminist movement; in particular, it focuses upon three major issues of special importance to Italian women: the liberalization of divorce, the legalization of abortion, and the proposal to reform the Italian penal code to allow the state to deal effectively and positively with violence directed against women.

An evaluation of this relationship requires, first, a definition of what constitutes "feminist issues" as a special and separate group of concerns; second, an understanding of what is meant by responsiveness; and third, a measure of the responsiveness of parliament, including a consideration of the forces to which parliament is responding (that is, to the feminist movement, to political parties, or to something else).

By "feminist issues, " in this essay, we will understand a collection of political concerns, the commonality of which is their challenge to the existing legal, eco-

A slightly different version of this paper was presented at the Conference Group on Italian Politics meeting on "Institutional Performance in Italy, " 14-19 June 1983, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Consiglio Nazionale di Ricerche of Italy.

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