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Patriarchy Strikes Back? What's Behind Italy's 'Male Rights' Movement

Former center-right politician Flavia Perina says Italy won't easily move backwards when it comes to women's rights, because the female electorate is watchful.

A pandora's box that is difficult to close has been opened
A pandora's box that is difficult to close has been opened
Flavia Perina

-OpEd-

After a period of progress in women's rights, it seems the time has come for the ebb, for a push-back of a certain type of male rights we thought history had left behind.

Popular propositions currently under consideration include: The right to shoot a home intruder; the right to freely visit a brothel; and the right to exercise the ancient Auctoritas of parental authority, which lay only with fathers until a 1975 reform to family law. Simone Pillon is now proposing a policy reversal that could take children away from their mothers — even if the father is violent.

Italian advertisement of women performing traditional childbearing role —Photo: Viewpoint Mag

There is a whole world behind this vision of life, of relationships, of personal prerogatives, and it is obviously the world of men — of a certain type of men, to be precise — and their interests. Feminists are calling it "patriarchy restored." But perhaps it is an exaggerated label. At the moment, the main goal behind these propositions seems to be less about recovering of old prerogatives that a desire to fire up the sympathies of the quintessential macho man, who makes up statistically significant part of the Italian electorate.

In the southern city of Crotone, the local branch of The League party issued a leaflet that took a direct hit at women's self-determination. "It arouses rancorous attitudes towards men," the document argued. Afterwards, the League party leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tried to keep his distance from the document. "I didn't know anything about it and I don't share some of its contents," he said.

Simone Pillon is now proposing a policy reversal that could take children away from their mothers — even if the father is violent.

The party members in Crotone had gone too far, it seems. But it was Salvini's rhetoric — his habit of persistently titillating the fantasies of Italy's machos — that got the ball rolling. He opened a Pandora's box that is now difficult to close, and that could ultimately prove costly: The League, especially in the North, has a large and emancipated female electorate that could get fed up.

Still, these male desires and nostalgia seem to be the theme of the moment. At the heart of it all is a specific age group, the most significant one from an electoral point of view: people aged 45 to 65, who are the most likely to vote in a country rife with abstention. There are about 20 million of them and they are the ones who make the difference on election day.

In this particular age group, men's vote counts more than those of women, from a numerical point of view, as women are not as willing to vote and the gender gap reaches very high levels when it comes to turnout. According to a study commissioned by Eurobarometer, there was a 4% gap in turnout during the latest European Parliament elections in 2014 (men 45%, women 41%).

In other words, the hunt for the vote of 60-year-olds is the real subtext of the moment. Should we be worried? We certainly should from a cultural point of view, but not as much from a practical perspective. It is difficult to imagine that Italy can move backwards in terms of female freedom, the rights of separated mothers and their children, or the Merlin law that banned brothels in 1958.

On the contrary, perhaps the maschista tendency will inspire politics to return to dealing with the rather baffled female electorate and to listen to their requests. It is long overdue.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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