As the current health and socio-economic crises become more acute, we run the risk that equal opportunities and enforceable rights will become crucial and even more divisive factors. As inequalities corresponding to differences increase, starting with the most widespread, gender inequality, exercising one’s rights – which is linked to quality of life, personal autonomy and decent employment – becomes a privilege.
On the other hand, social unease and conflict are creating greater awareness of unacceptable disparities in treatment, conditions and opportunities between individuals, regardless of skills and competences: this cannot be overlooked, especially on the threshold of having to make a collective effort; indeed, the expected new start will depend on the heterogeneity, originality and courage of the energies that will participate and on the common ability to make the most of them. And yet, it is precisely in the area of work that the gap between inequalities is widening, with a general reduction in rights, particularly for female workers.
“These signs must not go unnoticed, and the alarming figure for the end of the year in particular must be highlighted: out of 101,000 jobs lost, 99,000 had been held by women,” emphasises Monica Cerutti, former Councillor for Equal Opportunities and Rights of the Piedmont Region, who is also a researcher at the Department of Information Technology, University of Turin, an Ambassador for Telefono Rosa Piemonte, and a member of various associations in the sector. There are many reasons for this structural trend: the concentration of women in those sectors that have suffered the most during the pandemic, such as catering, the large number of women working with fixed-term contracts, or no contracts at all, and the suspension of educational services, the work of which then fell to the female component in families. Action is needed on several levels, but certainly with regard to the phenomenon of “horizontal segregation”, which leads women to work mainly in non-digital and low-tech sectors.
This aspect is also central to the more general area of rights: “It is not only that women are denied opportunities in emerging fields, as they are in a clear minority in STEM subjects, but also that they are excluded from places where artificial intelligence algorithms are developed, which are already pervasive in extremely delicate fields of decision-making and have a major impact on our daily lives,” stresses Cerutti, “from the selection of candidates for a job to a bank’s decision to grant a loan.”
These algorithms merely replicate stereotypes and prejudices that conform to the majority structures of which they are an expression and manifestation: a vision that is not nourished by a plural perspective of sensitivity and appreciation of differences will reinforce discrimination, further compressing the spaces, and therefore the rights, of those who are in any way different.
“Why not offer coding courses for girls and boys in all primary and secondary schools, parallel with measures to combat stereotypes?” Cerutti asks. This leads us back to dealing with gender-based violence, which is included in the Istanbul Convention as a human rights violation. Often, we cling to the easy binomial of immigration–gender-based violence, but the phenomenon certainly does not concern only foreigners. For a woman who has recently arrived in a new cultural context it is more challenging to create a path towards autonomy, because, for example, she encounters more obstacles to contacting a women’s shelter, and here the role of foreign women’s associations is very important: “Our Forum of Italian African Women in Turin intends to consolidate a women’s network, involving foreign and Italian women, with the aim of creating mutual understanding, promoting a culture of rights, but also supporting entrepreneurial activities and initiatives,” explains Monica.
However, in our country, the right for foreigners to work is linked to having the right to a residence permit, which further complicates the intertwining of the various guarantees. Unfortunately, differences continue to be matched by discrimination, which ultimately prevents people from asserting their rights.
There are no established recipes for reversing the trend, although it would be effective to overcome partisan perspectives: “Intersecting, or rather overlapping different social identities, in the name of plurality, as a woman, disabled person, foreigner, would recompose the fragmentation that today generates discrimination,” Cerutti concludes. At the same time, an overall vision, with an awareness of the complexity and heterogeneity of today’s world, would make it possible to develop more mature policies that meet educational criteria worthy of being called that.