Statement delivered by the Minister for Family and Disabilities, MP Mr. Lorenzo Fontana, at the Interactive Dialogue at Ministerial-level on the Review Theme “Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development” —
It is a great honor, as Minister for Families and Disability, to represent the Italian Government at the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women of the United Nations and have the opportunity today to illustrate what Italy has done and continues to do to promote women’s empowerment also in family policies and in the larger framework of sustainable development.
On 25 September 2015, precisely in this forum, the Member States of the UN agreed on an ambitious plan of action for the next 15 years, with the goal of ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity to the world population.
The goals we set out to achieve, however, will not be reached without the elimination of all prejudices or obstacles that expose women to discrimination and abuse impeding them from their full personal and professional realization.
Ensuring women and girls decent work, without marginalization and salary gaps, in an environment that is conducive toward maintaining a work-life balance, and implementing measures that can strengthen women’s representation in political and economic decision-making processes promotes the development of economic and social models that are inclusive and sustainable, even in the face of a fall in demographics in countries that are affected at an alarming rate.
Italy is strongly committed to keeping its pledge made for Agenda 2030, paying particular attention to the realization of the targets of Goal N.5 on equality between men and women, and for this purpose, has envisaged a mechanism of dedicated and shared governance.
Specifically, Italy has adopted a National Strategy for Sustainable Development 2017, divided into 5 different thematic areas, i.e. Persons, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership that serves as a national reference point for planning, programming an assessing sustainable development policies that are the result of the concerted efforts of a number of Administrations cooperating at different levels with civil society.
To ensure the efficacy and practicality of Strategy implementation, a National Commission for Sustainable Development has been set up and chaired by the Prime Minister and each Minister as member, along with the Presidents of the Regions, the Union of Administrative Districts, and the National Association of Italian Municipalities, tasked to monitor and assess completed interventions and the results obtained from the implementation of the National Strategy.
Despite the rise in recent decades in women’s participation on socio-economic and political environments, there are still significant differences between men and women in terms of employment rates, salaries and the presence of women in top positions in corporate and public entities.
To sustain women’s employment and give more and more women opportunities to enter the job market, Italy has recently launched initiatives promoting women’s entrepreneurship and self-employment through the use of innovative instruments that tackle the difficulties women have in access to credit.
In particular women entrepreneurs and the self-employed are offered access to a Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium-sized Businesses, which is a government guarantee on financing granted by banks.
The need for women to access and remain in the job market, however, does not exclude their right to fulfilling their private lives, which is possible only through a guarantee of flexibly creating a work-life balance.
A work-life balance is an important element of innovation for social and cultural models, as it aims to provide useful ways to help each individual best live their multiplicity of roles within society and is also a decisive element contributing to sustainability through an increase of birth rates.
The work-life balance is at the same time, a powerful tool for women’s economic, professional, and social empowerment, but recognizing its worth only in this sense would be reductive. The importance of the issue is such that it goes placed into a broader context, regarding the economy and development of every Country with a significant immediate impact on major demographic indicators.
The work-life policies indeed involve both men and women, employers and employees; they touch our private as well as public, political and social lives with a clear bearing on the distribution of the workload within families, on the organization of work, on women’s employment, as well as on the coordination of services of public interest.
I believe that a modern policy reconciling professional and family life should contribute to improving the employment rate and at the same time reduce poverty and social exclusion of men and women.
I am also firmly convinced that these policies should and can viably combat the current demographic crisis affecting Europe, in part, the result of men and women’s objective difficulties in reconciling all of the main aspects of their lives.
In this context, and following international and European indicators, the Italian Government with its 2019 budget law has allocated additional financial resources, approximately 104 million euros, for family policies, including those that support the priorities and fundamental needs of parenthood and births.
In particular, with said budget law, working mothers are given greater flexibility in the use of their maternity leave, whereas an increase to 5 days was given to mandatory paternal leave that working fathers can use upon the birth of their child.
This action is flanked by other system and long-term measures, such as the financial contributions covering the cost of nursery schools and the birth of a family’s first child, for which the Government has allocated approximately 1 billion euros. These are not one-time actions but structural contributions that do not take into consideration a family’s income and are not lumped together with their overall income.
In the administrative and organizational sphere, Italy has introduced, both in the public and private sectors, flexible forms of work, the most recent “smart work” that help to fulfill organizational needs and individual well-being, with the effect of containing management costs and improving services.
In this regard, we have also introduced a specific provision, also included in the 2019 budget law, that I have myself advocated as Minister for Disabilities, that gives priority entitlement to flexible work to working parents with children with disabilities that need permanent, continuous and all-around assistance.
Corporate wellbeing policies are essential to measuring and appreciating the extent to which an organization is attentive to the needs for work-life balance of their employees. In this perspective, the sharing of good practices that already occurs between our company managers and public administration can only but promote the country’s economic growth and increase the wellbeing of women, men, and their families.
For these reasons, I set up an institutional Table on work-life balance policies, which thanks to the participation of over 60 businesses, will enable the exchange of experience and good practices on these issues. The Table’s purpose is to provide companies with new, additional opportunities to bolster the professional welfare of their employees and families. The Italian Government, in cooperation with businesses, plans to launch soon a public tender – for the total amount of 80 million euros circa – that will go to fund projects promoting new and effective action to improve corporate wellbeing.
Promoting women’s empowerment as a way to support the sustainable development of our societies also means to combat all forms of violence and discrimination against women, girls and boys, which are the main obstacle to the enjoyment of their rights.
In this regard, Italy relies on an innovative legislative and strategic mechanism to prevent and combat male violence against women, in particular domestic violence, to make the necessary cultural changes for the wellbeing of every component of the family, and effectively assists its victims, including minors witnessing violence or orphans due to crimes of domestic violence.
Italy has recently adopted the National Strategic Plan on male violence against women, which outlines intervention strategies based on partnerships and integrated policies that hold all actors accountable for their implementation and on the three strategic pillars – prevention, protection and repression – of the Istanbul Convention.
This global and multi-disciplinary approach adopted at the national level is reflected also in the work of the Italian Development Cooperation.
I can indeed proudly say that Italy was very attentive to including the 5 political recommendations of CSW60 in its national policies. Italia has worked with UN Agencies on specific programmes that tackle economic empowerment and parity in access to productive activities.
In particular, Italy has promoted cooperative interventions in Africa to improve women’s entrepreneurial capacities and promote their employment in the fish and agro-industries in the area of the Red Sea. Italy also promoted equal access and decent work for women in Palestine and women’s empowerment for inclusive and sustainable development in the MENA region and in Central America.
In this global context, the setup of an information system that can monitor progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals is a necessity for the entire international community and for individual countries.
Our National Statistics Agency was given the difficult task of collecting the necessary statistical data to monitor our country’s progress with Agenda 2030 and thus can contribute to the realization of this global project.
According to recent figures, looking at the targets of Goal 5m Italy has recorded significant progress in a number of sectors.
I would like to highlight, in particular, that the amount of time women dedicate to domestic unpaid domestic work and care is currently on average 2.6 times greater that of men, and it was more than triple in 2002-2003. This relationship between the employment rates of women with children and nursery schools and the rate of women without children has improved. In growth it is also the presence of women in the national Parliament and in quoted companies and even, to a lesser extent, in decision-making at bodies at the regional level.
The Italian Government will continue with determination to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals we agreed on in Agenda 2030, that is to build a world where all individuals, women and men equally, can look to a future rich with security, opportunity and dignity.
A better world for the future generations of men and women in the hope that the demographic rate can be in balance in all the world so to guarantee the efficacy and sustainability of the development growth.
In this regard Italy wishes to cooperate more and more with other Member States of the United Nations to realize concretically the ambitious objectives we have globally set up to achieve so that “no one is left behind.”
Thanks for your attention.