Women

Coronavirus: Italian minister Azzolina targeted with sexist abuse

Tensions after more than two months of lockdown in Italy have boiled over into sexist attacks and threats against Education Minister Lucia Azzolina, who now has police protection.

Her abusers include right-wing Senator Giuseppe Moles of Forza Italia, who warned her that credibility was like virginity and was "easy to lose".

Furious senators in her Five Star party demanded that Mr Moles apologise.

A deputy health minister and a regional governor also have police guards now.

The deputy minister, Pierpaolo Sileri, had received threats linked to coronavirus aid. Like Ms Azzolina, he is in the anti-establishment Five Star movement, part of Italy's coalition government.

Attilio Fontana, governor of the Lombardy region – epicentre of Italy's coronavirus crisis – was also assigned police protection after being threatened on social media. Graffiti in Milan labelled him a "murderer".

He is in Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League, and his Lombardy government has been heavily criticised for shortcomings in its crisis response, such as shortages of some medical kit in the severely stretched health service.

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Austria's Justice Minister Alma Zadic, a Green politician, was reported to be under police protection in January after being targeted by far-right threats on social media.

What the senator said

During question time in the Senate on Thursday Senator Moles unleashed a tirade against Ms Azzolina, 37, who is battling to address widespread frustration over the paralysis in education caused by the coronavirus crisis.

"We've heard so much: school closing yes, school closing no; in April all students will be promoted, in May some students will fail; in September lessons can be half at school, half at home," he said.

"I remind you minister that school requires credibility and seriousness. And credibility is like virginity: easy to lose, difficult to maintain, and impossible to recover."

Ms Azzolina did not hit back at the senator – her social media posts have focused on her plans to get Italy's students back into class, while ensuring that protection against coronavirus is in place. Unlike some other countries, Italy is delaying the reopening of schools until September.

Colleagues sprang to the minister's defence. Five Star Senator Barbara Floridia called on Mr Moles to apologise. His comment comparing credibility to virginity was even more serious, she said, because it had been made "in front of a woman, a minister, who has in recent days suffered every kind of attack and insult" which meant she needed police protection.

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