The History of La Festa della Donna
The 8th of March is International Women’s Day, known in Italy as La Festa della Donna. It began as a day of memory and protest of the tragic event in New York on March 8th, 1908 when the owner of a textile factory — where all the workers were women — blocked all of the exits to the factory and set the building on fire after the workers went on strike to protest the substandard conditions in which they were forced to work. The 129 factory workers trapped inside, for the most part Italian immigrants, all died.
In Italy, La Festa della Donna was first celebrated in 1922. However, it was only after the end of World War II that it truly became an important holiday. The Union of Italian Women declared that this special date, the 8th of March, should be set aside to celebrate womanhood across the country as women could finally vote and have a political career for the first time in the history of Italy.
La Festa della Donna tends to be symbolic, even reminiscent of Mother’s Day as women across the country are gifted yellow mimosa blossoms to recognize women’s economic, political, and social achievements over the last century. Mimosas symbolize female solidarity. They were popularized by Teresa Mattei, who at one point was the national director of the Italian Women Union. Mimosas were chosen to ensure they were accessible to all, even those in more rural and impoverished areas. Originally, it was only men who gave mimosa blossoms, but now women give them to each other as well.
The Toll of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Covid-19 took a toll on everyone, but in Italy, women were especially impacted.
During the first few months of the lockdown, over 100,000 lost their jobs in Italy, and 98% of them were women. In 2020, a total of roughly 445,000 Italians became unemployment, 70% of them being women. More than that, femicide in Italy has increased in 2020. In 2020, a woman was killed every three days, and the perpetrator was someone familiar in over 80% of the cases. The lockdown of the pandemic has been identified as a driving cause for this increase as 50% of the total feminicides of 2020 happened during lockdown. Women in Italy had to stay inside, often with their abuser. In 61% of cases that occurred during lockdown, the abuser was a current or ex-partner.
A Divide in Meaning Today
Historically, International Women’s Day in Italy (as it is across the world) is day to celebrate women’s economic, political and social achievements. It is rooted in the feminist struggle for equal rights and recognition of the dignity, value, and contributions of women in every area of society across the globe. However, in recent years, it has become very commercialize and even trivialized in Italy for some. For some it is a day to be pampered and enjoy time with their female friends. Many restaurants and other establishments offer special Women’s Day events — some even feature male dancers and entertainers who perform to all-female audiences. To some, it is merely a day to go out, have fun, and go crazy.
A Long Road Ahead
Despite the popularity of La Festa della Donna in Italy, especially for those celebrating its historic purpose, the road to equality is long and winding. Though big strides have been achieved throughout history, Italian women are often victims of abuse, femicide, and inequality in Italy and the pandemic has exemplified just how far Italy still has to go until equality is achieved.