In an attempt to combat Italy’s rapidly declining birthrate, the Italian government declared September 22 to be “Fertility Day,” with a campaign that backfired tremendously.
The New York Times reports that the point of Fertility Day was to encourage Italians to make more babies but has instead raised furor across the country and incited a closer examination of why the birth rate is so low and what the government actually needs to do to fix it. Italian couples aren’t having children because they’re not having sex or because they don’t want to – it’s because the government provides very little support for families with children and because the main source of childcare in Italy is family.
From the New York Times:
Many working women, without an extended family to care for a child face a dilemma, as private child care is expensive. Some also worry that their job security may be undermined by missing workdays because of child care issues. Many companies do not offer flexible hours for working mothers.
These are issues that working mothers share everywhere, but in Italy, the culture is such that women are considered the primary caretakers and are expected to drop everything once they’ve had a child, leaving behind a career and a life to tend to a future generation of Italians. Tiziana Bartolini, an editor of Noi Donne, one of Italy’s prominent feminist magazines said, “Women are expected to care for children. If they live in regions where services are good, or in small towns, they keep their job. If they live in big, chaotic cities and have no family nearby, they are very prudent about becoming pregnant.”
Being “prudent” about becoming pregnant makes an awful lot of sense when the societal expectations are that, as a woman, your life will be put on hold to tend to your child. What are women, anyway, but empty shells waiting to be filled with the miracle of new life?
Also, The ads meant to promote this suspect initiative are not the best.
“Beauty has no age limit. Fertility does,” is the sort of sentiment an aged aunt peddles to you over stuffed mushrooms and wine at Thanksgiving, before looking pointedly at your stomach and then your left ring finger, both conspicuously empty.
“Don’t let your sperm go up in smoke” is probably more effective as an anti-smoking campaign than anything else, honestly.
Italy’s birthrate and its slow decline is symptomatic of many larger issues, including a decline in both immigration and mortality. According to the Guardian, Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin warned of a future in which no babies were being born, saying “We are very close to the threshold of non-renewal where the people dying are not replaced by new-borns. That means we are a dying country.”
The notion of a country dying because of a decline in the birthrate is alarming, to be sure. Addressing that issue by creating an ad campaign around an initiative that’s designed to shame women into having babies out of a misplaced sense of patriotism is merely a ragged Band-aid slapped on larger issues. It’s a shame that the population is on the decline or is at least holding steady for now, but invoking a woman’s biological clock and stamping an expiration date on her uterus as if it were a bag of pre-washed kale is not the way to fix this.