Italy offers a vibrant tapestry of cultural heritage, renowned cuisine and picturesque landscapes. That said, like many countries, it is continuously evolving to enhance inclusivity and accessibility for all.
This guide delves into the various facets of Italian society, examining how the country accommodates individuals with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and expatriates, as well as how it addresses gender equality, mental health and workplace diversity.
It also touches upon general safety in Italy and highlights key calendar initiatives that reflect the country's commitment to social issues.
Accessibility in Italy
Italy is one of the most accessible countries in Europe, and there are laws that guarantee the rights to independence and autonomy of people with disabilities. Despite significant progress, challenges persist due to social stigmas and a lack of infrastructure in certain areas.
While measures have been taken to improve school integration for students with disabilities, efforts are ongoing to overcome the remaining architectural and technological barriers in educational institutions.
Italy's railway system endeavours to accommodate passengers with disabilities through services like Sala Blu, which offers tailored assistance from departure to arrival. With prior arrangements, travellers can enjoy accessible platforms, dedicated seating, and assistance for boarding and alighting, ensuring a smoother travel experience across the country.
Further details on railway accessibility services can be found at Trenitalia's Sala Blu.
The bus network complements the accessible travel landscape with low-floor buses equipped with ramps, dedicated spaces for wheelchairs, and audible announcements for passengers with visual impairments. Additionally, tactile paving is often found at bus stops, improving navigation for those with visual disabilities.
Cities like Rome, Milan, and Florence provide detailed information on accessible transport options on their public transport websites. For a comprehensive understanding of the available facilities and services, expats can visit the official public transportation websites such as ATAC Roma, ATM Milano and ATAF Firenze.
Major Italian airports provide tailored services to ensure that flying is accessible to all. From designated parking to assistance at check-in, security, and boarding, efforts are made to accommodate travellers' needs. Services are coordinated with airlines and should be arranged in advance to guarantee a smooth and comfortable experience. Italian airports are equipped with services and facilities to support passengers with limited mobility or other disabilities.
For instance, Fiumicino Aeroporti di Roma and Malpensa Aeroporti di Milano provide comprehensive assistance services that passengers can request in advance. It is advisable for passengers to review these resources and arrange the necessary services before their travel.
Accessibility in public venues like hotels and restaurants varies; while many have adapted facilities, the historic nature of Italian architecture can present challenges. When planning a visit, it's prudent to check the accessibility features of accommodations and local transport options, particularly in areas with cobblestoned streets and uneven terrain.
For an example of accessible tourism in Italy, refer to the Italian National Tourist Board's list of accessible beaches in Tuscany.
LGBTQ+ in Italy
Italy is one of Western Europe’s most socially conservative countries, and although being gay is not a crime, it is still frowned upon by many people, and some gay people feel pressure to remain in the closet. The gay scene in Rome is centred on the Gay Street di Roma, an area behind the Colosseum that has been designated as a gay-friendly neighbourhood. Milan has Italy’s largest and most open gay scene, and the Porta Venezia neighbourhood is the centre of gay life in the city, and its metro station is even decorated with rainbow colours to highlight this.
Same-sex activity has been legal in Italy since 1890, and a civil union law was passed in 2016 that gave same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples, though same-sex marriage remains impossible under Italian law for now. A recent poll showed that the majority of Italians are in favour of same-sex marriage (56 percent).
People have been allowed to change their gender legally since 1982, and Italy’s constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
The European Union LGBTI Survey found that 62 percent of LGBTQ+ people in Italy rarely or never declare their sexual orientation, higher than the EU average of 53 percent. It also found that 22 percent of Italian LGBTQ+ individuals perceive some discrimination at work, which is around the average within EU countries.
Gender equality in Italy
Gender equality in Italy has increased markedly in the last ten years, but the country still ranks below its Western European peers in the EIGE Gender Equality Index. There is a growing acceptance of gender equality, especially in the north of Italy, but in some sections of society, women are still expected to stay at home and care for the house and children rather than join the workforce and earn a salary. Only 67 percent of women work in Italy, compared to 79 percent of men.
Women in Italy excel in both secondary and tertiary education, and 60 percent of Italian university graduates are female. Despite the difficulties, there are plenty of opportunities in the workplace for women, and the majority who graduate from university go on to get good jobs.
Women in leadership in Italy
Women remain underrepresented in senior management roles, and although the gender pay gap has decreased in Italy, women are still paid 9 percent less per hour than men. 60 percent of the gap is attributed to men and women with similar skills in the same firms being assigned different tasks and being compensated differently, and the other 40 percent is related to the concentration of women's employment in low-paying firms and sectors.
Female representation on the boards of Italy’s largest companies is just less than 40 percent, which puts Italy towards the top of the rankings among the G20 countries. 28 percent of senior managers in Italy are women.
Women occupy around a third of the seats in Parliament, which is a similar ratio to countries like the UK, Germany and The Netherlands.
Mental health awareness in Italy
There is a level of stigma in Italy and misunderstanding of mental disorders, which can prevent or delay people seeking help. Expats can be at greater risk of mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by stress and loneliness.
International companies are becoming more aware of the impact of mental health issues, and many have adjusted their policies to provide better support. This includes ensuring that mental illness is well covered by the company’s chosen employee healthcare schemes, as well as promoting knowledge and decreasing stigma by holding in-house workshops.
Expats who are registered with an Italian GP (medico di famiglia) can make an appointment to see them, and if necessary, they will refer patients to a suitable hospital or the local mental health centre (CSM, centro di salute mentale). Those who are not yet registered with an Italian GP can contact the local health authority (ASL, azienda sanitaria locale) to register. Once registered, the ASL will provide a list of state-enrolled doctors to select from.
There are also plenty of excellent English-speaking private psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals that can be contacted directly.
Unconscious bias training in Italy
The concept of unconscious bias is an implicit set of often stereotyped ideas an individual carries about groups of people different to themselves. These ideas are not purposefully adopted but rather develop subtly over time, and people tend to hold unconscious biases about groups they never or rarely come into contact with. As a result, they’re often inaccurate and based on assumptions.
Unconscious bias can profoundly affect both personal and work conditions. In the workplace, unchecked bias undermines vital aspects of the company, with negative effects on employee performance, retention and recruitment. In a bid to create a better work environment, many companies are beginning to institute unconscious bias training. There are also a number of online resources that can be used to improve self-awareness regarding bias.
Diversification of the workforce in Italy
There are around 2.5 million foreign workers in Italy in total, and the number of non-EU residents in Italy has increased by 44 percent over the last ten years. The number of non-EU nationals working for companies in Italy is highest for men working in the northeast of the country at 15 percent. The promotion of ethnic diversity and inclusion in the workforce still faces many obstacles, principally because of the bureaucratic procedures for hiring foreigners in Italy.
Despite the socially conservative attitudes of many Italians, leading companies in Italy scored very highly in a recent Diversity Leaders table published by the Financial Times. The table assessed employees’ perceptions of inclusiveness or efforts to promote various aspects of diversity within their respective industries.
Safety in Italy
Italy is one of the safest countries in the world, but petty theft is common, and expats should avoid walking alone late at night, be street smart, and keep their valuables hidden. There are incidents of pickpocketing in busy or touristy areas and on public transport. There are low rates of violent crime, and incidents are much lower than in the US, for instance.
While Italy is a safe place for single women, Italian men can be flirtatious, and it is not uncommon for women to hear 'Ciao bella'. It’s usually best to ignore the comment and walk on.
Calendar initiatives in Italy
4 February – World Cancer Day
28 February – Rare Disease Day
March – TB Awareness Month
17 May – International Day Against Homophobia
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
June – Gay Pride events in Rome and Milan
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
10 October –World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
1 December – World AIDS Day
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