In 1970, the average fertility rate for women in the European Union was 2.4 children per woman. But in 2013 it fell to 1.5 children — a number that’s technically too low to maintain a stable population. As populations age in those countries, more and more people rely on government-funded social services.
So it’s no surprise that the government in Italy, where the fertility rate is below the EU’s average (1.4 children per woman), is stressed out about the issue. Unfortunately, the nation’s attempt to allay their concerns — by announcing a national “Fertility Day” on September 22 — is backfiring in a huge way.
According to its website, the Fertility Day campaign is designed to remind Italians of the “beauty” of parenthood, warn them of diseases that could lead to infertility, and educate them on ways to increase their fertility. But the movement’s social-media campaign, spearheaded by Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin, was considered by many to be offensive.
The campaign includes six images; one, which shows a woman holding an hourglass, reads, “Beauty has no age. But fertility does.” Another says, “Fertility is a common good,” and a third reads, “Male fertility is much more vulnerable than you might think,” with a picture of a rotting banana peel.
Italian women were not moved. Blogger Giulia Blasi pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of the Italian government asking women to have children when it doesn’t even provide for paid maternity leave. And according to Quartz, although gender discrimination in the workplace is technically illegal, many Italian women are asked to sign a “dimissioni in bianco” upon being hired, which states their contract can be terminated should they become pregnant.
What’s more, Italy’s unemployment rate for people under 25 is 42 percent, and its overall unemployment rate (11.6 percent) is nearly double that of the United States, all of which makes having children decidedly inadvisable. What’s more, Blasi says, the government doesn’t provide IVF for same-sex couples, and although LGTBQ couples can be joined in a civil union, they can’t adopt. She goes on:
All this is the government’s business, and should be dealt with in order to make it possible for young Italians to procreate when they feel the urge, or not, according to their wishes and desires. What this campaign hides is the complete inability of the government to tackle the declining birth rate and subsequent decrease of cash flow towards the country’s already severely depleted public welfare. If women choose not to have children — for personal or financial reasons, or both — who is going to pay the insane amount of taxes required to keep the system working? Not the children of immigrants, who are not awarded automatic citizenship even if born and raised on Italian soil. It falls to Italian women to repopulate Italy, fulfilling their biological destiny and doing their patriotic duty.
On Friday, Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, bashed the campaign in a radio interview.”If you want to create a society that invests in its future and has children, you have to make sure the underlying conditions are there,” he said.
Lorenzin, meanwhile, apologized for the campaign and said it had been misunderstood. “We did not intend to offend or provoke anyone,” she said. “If the message has not gone across as we would have liked, we will change it.”