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Italy's end to employment discrimination has women crying foul

Italy has raised women's retirement age to match that of men. Many women says it's unfair in a culture where women who work also are responsible for housework and the care of family members.

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Labor laws should not make any distinction based on gender: This may seem obvious in most democracies. Yet a public outcry arose when the Italian parliament recently ratified a new law ending discrimination in the retirement age between men and women – much of it from women's rights groups and labor unions.

Until now, female employees could retire at 60, five years earlier than their male counterparts – a double standard based on the consideration that women also take care of the housework and family. The European Commission found the rule illegal last year, and the government acted to bring Italy into compliance.

But not all women are happy about the change – underscoring how traditional ideas about gender roles have held surprisingly firm in Italy, both in raising children and looking after ailing parents.

"I cannot imagine working until 65; there's simply a point where you've exhausted all your energies," says Stefania Zevi, a public high school teacher in her mid-50s. She says that working with teenagers is demanding for everybody, but the load becomes unbearable for middle-aged women, who often have to take care of older family members at home.

"Most of my female colleagues have at least one aging parent who is not self-sufficient," she says. "What are they supposed to do?"

Women carry the family workload

When it comes to family and home, the work lies largely on women's shoulders in Italy. According to the OECD, Italy has the biggest disparity among industrialized nations between male and female workloads at home. This may help explain why just 45 percent of Italian women work, a low figure compared with other Western European countries.

The newly approved law applies only to 3.5 million female government employees. But Italy's conservative government has vowed to extend this policy to the private sector soon.

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