On November 18, the high-profile, week-long search for 22 year-old Italian university student Giulia Cecchetin, missing since a meeting with her ex-boyfriend just days before she was set to graduate, culminated in an all-too-familiar ending with the discovery of her corpse, wrapped in black plastic and dumped by a lake, riddled with 26 stab wounds.
Violence against women was already top of mind in Italy. “C’è ancora domani” (There’s Still Tomorrow), a film telling the story of a woman’s abuse at the hands of her husband, was topping the Italian box office. Even though the movie was set in 1946, the story resonated with Italian women who saw the exploration of domestic abuse and sexism as far from old history.
Italian women had previously organized silent candlelight vigils to protest femicide, the murder of a woman or girl because of her gender, but this time, they flipped the script. Cecchettin’s sister Elena put out a call to action, saying, “For Giulia, don’t make a minute of silence. For Giulia, burn everything down.”
While the Italian government moved quickly to pass legislation to expand protections against women and pledged to launch a campaign in schools to raise awareness about violence against women, it was not enough to stop the simmering fury of Italian women from erupting into the streets. Students across multiple universities organized “minutes of noise” in memory of Giulia, and hundreds of thousands protested across Italy on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Under the banner of Non Una Di Meno (similar to Ni Una Menos in Latin America which means not one more woman lost), protesters chanted “end violence against women” and “we want to live.” Protesters demanded stricter laws against femicide and violence against women, more funding for resources to address violence against women, and an overall reckoning with Italy’s deep-seated chauvinism.
Rates of femicide are on the rise in Italy and across the world. According to a September 2022 report by the Violence Policy Center, femicide increased by 24 percent in the United States between 2014 and 2020. A UN report surveying women from 13 countries found that 50 percent of women reported that either they or a woman they knew had experienced violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the term “Shadow Pandemic” has been used to characterize the growing epidemic of domestic violence.
In an op-ed, Elena Cecchetin pointed to the systemic nature of her sister’s murder, writing that killers are “not sick, they are the healthy sons of patriarchy.” Italy is known for particularly machismo attitudes, bearing the legacy of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship and the strong cultural influence of the Catholic church. However, sexism is not an isolated phenomenon but rather an essential aspect of capitalism. Femicide is a global crisis unveiling the deep social sickness of women’s oppression under capitalism, a crisis which is a matter of life and death for far too many.
Femicide has spurred mass movements against women’s oppression worldwide. Sparked by the vicious murder of pregnant, 14-year old Chiara Paez in 2015, the Ni Una Menos movement spread from Argentina across Latin America. Transitioning into the Green Wave movement for abortion rights, protestors won important steps forward for abortion rights in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, and Mexico. The start of 2022 saw mass protests in Ireland following the murder of Ashling Murphy, and the end of the year was rocked by an explosive protest movement in Iran following the murder of Mahsa Amini, beaten to death by the “Morality Police” for an “improper hijab.”
These protests offer a glimpse into the potential power of working-class feminist movements to shake the capitalist system to its core. Strengthening and expanding movements against gender-based violence to every country is absolutely imperative. From Hungary to Sweden, Bolsanaro to Trump to Le Pen, the rise of the sexist, racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant right wing has emboldened hate crimes and violence against the oppressed and marginalized. The repeal of women’s abortion rights in the US half a century after Roe v. Wade prompted outrage, underscoring that women’s rights cannot simply advance steadily in a capitalist system dependent on oppression. Band-aid solutions acceptable to the political establishment will never be enough to provide substantial, lasting change. This is particularly obvious in countries like Italy, whose anti-abortion Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni cannot even present a flimsy facade of GirlBoss feminism as she heads a far-right party literally called the “Brothers of Italy.” To truly end violence against women, once and for all, we need systemic change: we need to end capitalism.