When the Italian Health Ministry launched a “Fertility Day” Campaign earlier this month, it was met with indignation rather than admiration. The initiative was an attempt to encourage procreation in a country with one of the lowest birth rates in the world, but due to a lack of cognizance and sensitivity it unfortunately completely missed its mark. For a country that struggles with high unemployment, low wages and prevalent sexism, the campaign has been seen as archaic, exposing an amateurish understanding by the campaign makers of a topic that is sensitive and overwrought for many.
The objective of the #FertilityDay campaign, held on Thursday, September 22nd 2016, is to encourage Italians to have more babies. The initial launch of the campaign earlier this month, however, completely missed its mark and prompted outcry throughout the country. The campaign launched a series of posters featuring demeaning phrases such as “Beauty has no age limit, fertility does” and “Young parents: the best way to be creative” and “Fertility is a public good”. This last one strikes at the real heart of the campaign, which was a transparent effort not so much to encourage fertility education as to off-set Italy’s ever declining birth rate.
Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, with an average of 1.4 children born per mother in her child-bearing years – below the requisite 2.1 average to ensure a stable population. All this explains the government’s fertility concerns: it needs tax-paying young workers to cover the country’s generous social policies, including a national health service, pensions, free education and other assistance measures. The problem, of course, is that young women (and men) don’t need to be incentivized to have children; the government however need to create the proper conditions which make can make raising a family a reality for young Italians.
There are many obstacles to having children in Italy. Unemployment is high across the board but especially among young people between the ages of 15 and 24: it was 42.6% in 2015, hardly laying the foundation for a stable career.
Low wages are another major problem: the average salary for full-time, entry-level jobs is €27,400 a year, the lowest among western European (and only 50% of women in Italy are employed compared to 70% of men).
Although Italy affirms generous paid maternity leave in theory, sexism and prejudice in the workplace is very common, and many women in the private sector are forced to sign undated resignation letters called dimissioni in bianco so employers can fire them without penalty, for instance in the case of pregnancy.
The Fertility Day campaign posters were appropriated by critics almost immediately, featuring phrases that read “My pregnancy lasts longer than my contract” and “As if I could afford to have kids”. Even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi distanced himself from the campaign, ironically quipping that none of his friends “had their kids after seeing the adverts” after being asked about the initiative.
The campaign was quickly withdrawn and re-imagined, with the Italian Health Minister saying the original intent was not a “call to reproduction”.