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In a First for Europe, Housewives May Soon Have Insurance

In what many consider an overdue acknowledgment of the hardships of cooking and cleaning, the Italian government is declaring that housework can be a risky business and should be covered by insurance.

Last Friday, the Council of Ministers put the finishing touch to a bill that would allow women to claim compensation for housework-related injuries such as severe cuts and burns. If the bill makes it through Parliament, housewives will be eligible for insurance by contributing a yearly, tax-deductible sum - no more than $15 - to a fund set up, and financed, by the state.

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If the injury proves debilitating to a sufficient degree - cutting productivity by at least 33 percent - women who can prove that their main occupation is in the home will receive a monthly check based on the minimum wage. Men will also qualify, provided their main activity is cooking and cleaning.

"If parliament approves the bill, Italy will be the first country in Europe to have a such a law," Federica Rossi Gasparrini - the mastermind behind the bill - said in an interview Friday. Ms. Rossi Gasparrini, who will soon resign from her position as the head of Federcasalinghe, a housewives union, to take on the male-dominated environment of the Labor Ministry, has been working hard to make the bill acceptable at a time when Italy is struggling to meet stringent economic criteria for the European Monetary Union.

"The latest figures on domestic injuries indicate that close to 3.5 million women hurt themselves badly every year," she says. "We will make the premium payment compulsory for women between the ages of 18 and 65. This will allow coverage for 7.3 million women all over Italy."

According to a 1994 study by the National Institute of Statistics, the most common injuries are cooking-related. Overall, a total of 1.5 million women incurred home-related injuries last year.

Most women interviewed after the announcement expressed both gratitude and incredulity. "You mean if I burn myself at the stove, I can get insurance?" one middle-aged woman shopping at a supermarket in downtown Rome asked. "This is absolutely unbelievable. It's great!"

"People are running around saying that forcing housewives to pay a premium is unconstitutional because it's like imposing a tax," says Rosa Femia, a journalist with Agenzia Giornalistica Italia. "But ... all workplaces in Italy must be covered by insurance by law. Housework is just like any other work, so I think it should be covered by insurance as well. It's a great move. Let's just hope it makes it through Parliament."

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