In Italy, 8th March marks the day of the Festa Della Donna – a celebration of the remarkable achievements of women in Italy and around the world. From progressive politicians and accomplished intellectuals to bold activists fighting for gender equality, Italy’s women have had a tremendous impact in shaping the culture of their country. To celebrate Festa Della Donna, we honour the women who, through their unwavering belief in feminism and passion for equal rights, have helped to mould Italy and its approach to equality.
Anna Maria Mozzoni
Commonly regarded as the founder of Italy’s women’s movement, Anna Maria Mozzoni was one of the most important and influential women in Italian and international politics between the 19th and 20th centuries. Mozzoni defended the poor and championed women’s equality throughout her life, fighting for women’s right to education, arguing that women needed to enter the workplace and publishing a feminist critique of Italian family law. Her most famous act, though, was her pivotal role in gaining women’s suffrage in Italy. She presented a petition for giving women the right to vote in 1877 and continued to advocate for universal suffrage until her death in 1920 – a battle that was finally won in 1945 when all women in Italy were given the right to vote.
Not many people can say they helped shape the future of education, but Maria Montessori is one of those who has had an undeniable influence on learning across the world. A physician, humanitarian and educator, Montessori opened her first school in 1907, pioneering a style of learning that focused on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development – arguing that by working independently, children would be able to become self-motivated and reach new levels of understanding. This approach was so successful it soon spread across the globe, leading to the opening of countless Montessori schools that still operate today; schools that have been attended by Nobel Prize winners and the founders of Google and Amazon.
To say Tina Anselmi had a remarkable life would be an understatement. As a teenager, she played an active part in the Italian resistance movement during World War II, and she then went on to study literature, become a teacher and write a series of books about her experiences – all before entering the world of politics and becoming Italy's first female cabinet member in 1976. As a fervent believer in equality Anselmi used her position to push towards equal rights legislation, supporting laws on equal pay and chairing the National Equal Opportunities Commission. Her contributions have been recognised throughout Italy, and in 2016 she became the first person to be commemorated on a postage stamp while still alive.
A former Italian Member of European Parliament, Licia Ronzulli became a poster girl for working mothers everywhere when, in 2013, she adopted a bold new approach to balancing work and caregiving – she began bringing her six-week-old baby with her into various voting sessions at the European Parliament. The stunt was designed to bring the issues that working mothers face to the forefront and further conversations around the maternal work-life balance. Ronzulli went on to push for gender equality through her politics, including voting to improve women’s employment rights.
Originally born Teresita Pasini, the feminist, pacifist and journalist Alma Dolens chose her pseudonym based on her feelings towards militarism and war – the name translates from Latin as ‘sorrowful heart’. It was this idea, alongside the belief that women were vital for social progress and the improvement of the peace movement, that led her to found the Women’s Society for Peace, Italy’s first women’s peace organisation, in the early 1900s. Dolens went on to work alongside trade unions and highlight the poor living conditions faced by working-class Italian families, all the while arguing that women would need to play a key role in order for any social change to be truly successful.