Rome, Sep 23 (IANS/AKI) A group of protestors on Thursday called for Italy’s Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin to stand down over her controversial Fertility Day initiative.
The over 70 protesters gathered outside a building where she was hosting a debate to promote the initiative.
Aimed at raising awareness of the causes of infertility and encouraging women to have children younger, the campaign has sparked fury, especially on social media, where critics accuse it of being sexist, patriarchal and racist.
Protesters held ‘Fertility Fake’ rallies in cities across Italy on Thursday to coincide with ‘Fertility Day’, wearing pillows to mimic pregnancy.
The protesters said they were ‘expecting’ – “rights – to welfare, to study, to a healthy environment, to jobs, to nurseries, and adoptions for homosexual couples”.
The protests took place in Rome, Florence, Naples, Turin, Padua, Pescara, Perugia, Pisa, Bologna, Milan, Bari and Trieste.
As part of the official Fertility Day, scientific meetings took place Thursday in Rome, Padua, Bologna and Catania, where ‘fertility villages’ were set up to host experts, associations and scientific companies offering advice and screening.
On Wednesday, the health ministry withdrew a Fertility Day pamphlet that was widely slammed as racist. Lorenzin said the ministry’s director of communications has been fired and she had launched an internal investigation into the pamphlet.
The cover of the booklet showed two white couples, arms draped around one another, exhibiting behaviour that was good for fertility, while the image that represented poor habits showed a black person among a group doing drugs.
Earlier in the advertising campaign, Fertility Day posters were removed after being widely criticised as sexist and failing to address issues like economic hardship and unemployment which can affect people’s choice to have children.
“Beauty has no age. But fertility does,” read the caption of a poster that caused the biggest outcry. It showed a young woman touching her stomach with one hand and holding an egg-timer in the other, with the sand running away.
Lorenzin has defended Fertility Day, pointing out that Italy has one of Europe’s lowest birthrates. Fewer babies were born in 2015 than in any year since the modern state was founded 154 years ago.
Italy’s fertility rate last year was 1.35 children per woman, compared to an EU average of 1.6.
“Facts are more important that polemics and the facts are that we currently have 700,000 people who want to procreate and for various reasons cannot,” Lorenzin said at the Rome conference.
She said earlier in September that her campaign should have been called “Infertility Day”.
Lorenzin is a member of a centrist bloc considered close to the Catholic Church, that is allied with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s ruling centre-left Democratic Party.
Renzi himself appeared to dismiss the Fertility Day campaign earlier this month when he said people were more likely to have children when they had regular jobs and adequate day care.
“I don’t know of any of my friends who had kids after they saw an advertisement,” Renzi said in a radio interview.