Brutal murder of teenager overshadows Italy women's rights vote

ROME Tue May 28, 2013 2:38pm EDT

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's lower house ratified on Tuesday a treaty combating violence against women in a session overshadowed by the brutal murder of a teenager that has shocked a country dogged by lingering machismo and inequality between the sexes.

The Council of Europe Istanbul convention is intended to reinforce measures to protect women from violence and has had particular resonance in Italy following a horrific series of murders and acid attacks on women in recent months.

Before the session opened, House Speaker Laura Boldrini called for a minute's silence in memory of Fabiana Luzzi, a teenager whose murder on Friday has shocked Italy.

"She was burned alive because of jealousy at 16 years old by a boy of 17, her boyfriend. Once again violence masquerading as love. It's a horror we cannot become accustomed to and shows the challenge we face is cultural," Boldrini said.

Thousands of mourners including Minister for Equal Opportunities Josefa Idem attended Luzzi's funeral in a small town in southern Italy as voting took place in parliament.

Speaking at the funeral, Idem said the state needed to do more to protect women after dozens of other cases of women killed by their partners reported this year.

Yet politicians were criticized for not taking the issue more seriously after only a handful turned up to the debate about the treaty on Monday with newspapers featuring photographs of the nearly empty chamber.

The treaty still needs final ratification in the Senate for final approval by Italy, which would join Turkey, Albania, Portugal and Montenegro in backing the convention. It needs the support of at least 10 countries to take effect.

If the convention comes into force, Italy will still need to put in place the treaty provisions, including measures to prevent and redress violence, something the cash-tight government may struggle to fund as it grapples with rising unemployment and Italy's longest postwar recession.

MURDER

No current official statistics exist on the number of murders of women in Italy, a society often criticized for ingrained sexism, but Telefono Rosa, a domestic violence support group, said the problem had reached dramatic levels.

It says 38 women have been killed by men because of their gender, compared to 124 last year, most by current or former partners. But the figures may mask the scale of the problem.

A 2012 United Nations report on violence against women in Italy said more than 90 percent of women who suffered rape or abuse did not report it, and though murders of men by men had fallen, the number of women killed by men had increased.

Italy ranked 80 out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2012 Gender Gap Report, one of the lowest ratings in Europe, noting particularly low wage equality, numbers of women in senior positions and representation in politics.

"In Italy machismo, misogynist attitudes and treating women as objects have become worse in the last five years. We have gone backwards," said Anna Baldry, a psychologist who works on violence against women at the Second University of Naples.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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