Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 58 Women and Men

I heard a story a while back about a woman, reputed to be a strega (a witch), who lived in Martignano at the turn of the 20th century.  Everybody knew she was a witch except her husband. As the story goes, the woman would wait until her husband slept before sneaking out. Then she’d turn herself into a horse and carouse with others like herself in the piazza.

At some point somebody got up the nerve to tell the husband, and he concocted a plan to catch her in the act. Pretending to be asleep when she slipped out, the man followed his wife to the piazza, walked right up to her (as a horse) and smashed her on the head with a stick of wood, which he'd brought for the express purpose.

The blow immediately turned her back into a woman, a bloodied one. The next day the big gash in her head remained so that everyone knew her carousing days were over.

When I heard that tale, I nearly spit. What a convenient story for a wife beater living in a time of superstition.  

The house where the couple lived is abandoned now, its stones crumbling and its innards filling up with weeds.

The story came to mind because November 25 is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. There will be demonstrations in Rome, Bologna, Brescia and Napoli, organized by 400 Italian women's groups under the umbrella of

I haven't been able to ferret out any activities taking place in Canada on Nov. 25. In fact, the date isn't even mentioned on the Canadian government's events 2010 calendar. This despite the fact that its own agency, Statistics Canada, said in a 2008 report there had been 38,000 incidents of spousal violence in 149 police services during 2006 -- accounting for some 15 per cent of all reported violent incidents in the nation. 

No one will be surprised to hear men were responsible for eight out of ten of these assaults.

Stats Can also reports 49 women were killed by a current or former spouse in 2009, four more than in 2008. Fourteen of them had already left their killers when they were cut down.

Here's another good number: Women continue to face three times the likelihood of turning up dead at the hands of an intimate partner than men do.

American Bar Association’s numbers indicate in recent years intimate partners were responsible for about a third of female murder victims, and the number one killer of African American women 15 to 34 is death at the hands of a current or former partner.

I started wondering whether in a supposedly macho country like Italy whether the statistics on spousal abuse would be better or worse. The news isn't good.

In a news release by, the organizing agency for the Nov. 25 marches, and published by, it cities some fierce figures: Italy's statistics agency ISTAT found more than 14 million Italian women have experienced physical, sexual and psychological violence from male partners or relatives during their lives.

A whopping 1.4 million women reported having been raped before they were 16, mostly by boyfriends or male relatives.

The controviolenza news release also has this to say: "Shockingly, over 94 percent of violence endured by women (in Italy) is never reported, and just 18.2 percent of women consider it a crime."

On-line broadcaster quotes Sabrina Franca, director of the Maree antiviolence center, in Rome who said that until 1996 Italy had no laws against sexual violence, and men were not punished for abusing women.

"According to an old Italian legislation, a man could kill his wife, if she was cheating on him,” Franca said.

The story polled men on the streets of Rome on the subject of violence against women. Each and every one of them insisted they could never lift a hand against a woman. Some even blamed immigrants for Italy's appalling statistics. Rt said almost 7 million women were victims of domestic violence in Italy last year.

The numbers haven’t suddenly shot up. It cites psychologist who say it's just that  women are now less afraid to turn in their partners.


But in some Third World countries, up to 70 per cent of their female citizens endure untold indignities. Have a look at the World Heath Organization’s web site.

The house where the strega is supposed to have lived in the early 1900s as seen from the street

A door immediately left of the entrance leads into what must have been a kitchen

What went through that poor woman's mind as she lit the fire for her husband's breakfast?

The kitchen fireplace?


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