In America they’re happy we’re finally using birth control in a sort of “yay, poor people aren’t having kids anymore!” celebration.
In Italy, they’ve launched a campaign encouraging Italians to get pregnant.
— Angelo Ghigi (@aghigi) August 31, 2016
With posters that seriously miss the mark, this #fertilityday announced by Italy’s Public Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin (herself, a female) immediately found rightful backlash. Fertility Day is supposedly a day of information that will be celebrated in many of Italy’s major piazzas on September 22, specifically calling attention to Italy’s falling (fast) birth rate. Quartz reported on the subject saying:
“The average fertility rate in the EU was 2.4 children per woman in 1970, but dropped to 1.5 in 2013, according to the OECD. The OECD says a rate of 2.1 is required to ensure a stable population, so rates below this are bad for countries with aging populations, generous social services, and sclerotic economies. (In other words, for Italy.)
It’s true that Italians aren’t having kids like they used to, but the posters on social media used to promote the event are a bit problematic. One says “Get moving! Don’t wait for the stork.” Another, “Beauty has no age. Fertility does.” It shows a woman in red holding a sand timer and her uterus.
Italians immediately hit back en masse on social media, with sarcastic tweets and angry Facebook rants. The best response to that above piece of propaganda that I saw? A similar looking woman holding a sand timer. The text near her reads: “A child is a full-time contract. My job isn’t.”
In Italy, the best contract you can possibly get is a tempo indeterminato. This means a contract with no immediate end date and nowadays they are few and far between. The many laws created to protect workers rights have also made it next to impossible for a company to fire a worker – forcing them to give serious back pay that for many small businesses could shut them down. For this reason, no one gets a full-time contract anymore, but rather a contract a tempo determinato, that is, a contract with a clear start and end date. People work entire careers with these contracts, renewing it each year.
Though it’s quite common that Italians go into retirement having the same job with this renewable contract, it still means that each six months to one year they have to ensure that it is renewed, they have to be nervous that they won’t have a job within the week. Finally, there are independent contracts, with workers having a Partita Iva and working as a sort of contractor on a project by project basis. In any case, the work situation isn’t great in Italy.
The fact is that posters aren’t going to help a country make babies. This isn’t the time of Mussolini, when propaganda filled newspapers, telling Italians that children were the best way to ensure Italy’s future success, yet this campaign seems to have taken a note from that. The Italian government needs to find a solution to the insane amount of taxes needed at a time when the population is aging, fast. Who’s going to keep the state running without children? Children of immigrants aren’t awarded citizenship even if they’re born and raised in Italy, a decision that helps exactly no one.
Sure, the government needs future tax payers, but Italian citizens need job security. They need wages that increase with the cost of living. Our friends – entry level workers in their late 20s and early 30s – are making on average 1,200 euro per month. Considering that a house costs at least 400 euro in this area, and that’s if it’s a hole-in-the-wall or you have a roommate; that 400 euro doesn’t include bills, so add another 100 per month for electricity, heat and water (a rough, and low, estimate); a car is another 300 euro per month for insurance, gas, maintenance and payments; let’s say eating costs 200, which is low and we’re already at 1,000 euro per month just for the bare minimum. Now you need to take the subway a few times or go to the dentist. You drive further than usual, something in your house breaks down or you want to go out with friends at least once per month and you’re screwed.
And that’s just base wages. This doesn’t even mention the gross discrimination that women in Italian workplaces manage, many of whom will lose their job if they get pregnant. Women can’t get an abortion, surrogates are illegal and IVF treatments are highly regulated. Adoption can only happen if you have a kick-ass job and as we’ve seen, that probably won’t happen until you’re well into your 30s. (Read Blogger Giulia Blasi’s excellent opinion piece on the subject here.) Have babies, the government says, but we’re not going to help you. In Italy, the only help comes from grandparents, if you’re lucky enough to have more than one healthy parent who will watch their grandchildren.
Young, educated people can barely get by on what’s out there, and you want them to procreate? There’s one thing the Italian and American governments have in common: a complete blind eye once you do have the baby. If the Italian government wants more babies, it’s going to need to create a bit more than a national information day with an English name. It’s going to need to support businesses so that they’re not so terrified to hire people. It’s going to need to offer help with day cares, give better maternity and paternity leave (which is, admittedly, worlds ahead America’s). It needs to ensure living wages and affordable housing.
Or, it needs to shut up and let people live.