How did Brothers of Italy take power – and how will the party’s election affect women’s and LGBTIQ+ rights?

Giorgia Meloni's far-Right Brothers of Italy party is set to head Italy's most right-wing government since the fall of Mussolini's fascist regime in 1943, after winning the most votes in the country's general election on Sunday.

Meloni's agenda is nationalist and anti-immigration, while opposing 'gender ideology' and promoting the 'traditional family'. She defines herself as "pro-family", which has stoked fears over abortion and LGBTIQ+ rights in Italy.

But how did we get here - and how will Meloni's extreme views play out in government?

With this in mind, Meloni's victory should be seen in the context of a worldwide swing to the populist Right, which openDemocracy has long covered through a series of investigations into women's and LGBTIQ+ rights. For years, Brothers of Italy "has been assiduous in building far-Right alliances" with other parties in Europe: Vox in Spain, Viktor Orbàn's Fidesz in Hungary, the Law and Justice party in Poland.

These parties share not only similar anti-rights agendas, but wealthy and powerful friends, too - both at home and abroad.

More than $700m has been spent on 'anti-gender' activities against sexual and reproductive rights in Europe since 2009, according to recent research by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. These activities include projects to convince women to continue unwanted pregnancies and campaigns for conservative education in schools. It is not known whether Brothers of Italy has benefited from any of this money.

Around $430m of this came from European sources, including private foundations, religious groups, NGOs and political parties, with major Catholic foundations from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain among the largest funders. The report by the European Parliamentary Forum says "religious extremists" have also "tapped into public funding", obtaining money from governments.

While these projects are seriously impacting the lives of those in Europe, much of the money behind them comes from elsewhere. The Christian Right in the US has made inroads in pushing its agenda in Europe, with Italy as one of its key targets.

In 2019, openDemocracy exposed links between senior European politicians and the US-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTIQ group that promotes the concept of 'natural family', based on the idea that a married man and woman, and their biological children, are the only genuine form of family.

That year, an openDemocracy reporter attended the WCF's annual summit - which was held in Verona, in north-east Italy - and saw firsthand how the conference brought together ultra-conservative activists from the US, Russia and elsewhere, and their far-Right political allies. Meloni - along with Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italian right-wing party Lega Nord - was a speaker, and vowed to guarantee "the right of a woman forced to have an abortion because she has no alternatives, to have that alternative."

Another American anti-abortion organisation with deep pockets, Heartbeat USA, is also active in Italy - appearing to have spent more money in the country than anywhere else in Europe.

openDemocracy reporters found Italian volunteers providing misleading information to women seeking abortions in a public hospital in Benevento in southern Italy. The volunteers were part of a federation called Movimento per la Vita ('Movement for Life') with links to Heartbeat. Movimento per la Vita also runs centres across Italy that aim to dissuade women from abortion, which Heartbeat describes as "affiliates" on its website.

Internationally, the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US has proved that rights are at risk - and experts have told openDemocracy of their fears that the Supreme Court's decision will embolden anti-abortion groups across Europe.

In Italy, Meloni and her party collaborate with anti-choice and so-called 'anti-gender' movements and support their crusades. Just before the election, Brothers of Italy - along with other parties from the Italian Right, soon to be part of a right-wing alliance in government - signed a manifesto from Italian anti-choice group ProVita e Famiglia, which condemned abortion and called for restrictions on gay and transgender rights. Members of this movement have been elected as Brothers of Italy MPs.

Meloni has said she won't abolish the 1978 law that allows access to abortion. But in regions where her Brothers of Italy party is already in power, such as Marche, local authorities have proposed allowing anti-abortion activists to work in the health service-funded family counselling clinics, which give advice on abortion, contraception and sexual health.

The Marche regional council also decided to not apply a health ministry measure that increases access to medical abortion and has refused to sponsor a local Pride March - sparking concerns that such measures could be imposed nationwide under a Meloni government.

Elsewhere, at a national level, Meloni opposes legalising euthanasia, regulating surrogacy, and giving same-sex couples the right to adopt a child. Brothers of Italy recently protested against an episode of the cartoon 'Peppa Pig' portraying a family with two mothers - claiming this amounted to indoctrination for children.

She is also against legislation punishing hate crimes against LGBTIQ+ people - a bill on this was defeated last year after being voted down by Brothers of Italy and others - and the so-called 'gender ideology', having opposed the teaching of sexuality and affectivity in schools.

Even before the election, openDemocracy spoke to women and LGBTIQ+ movements who predicted that a Meloni victory would be bad news for them. Many feared not only a normalisation of homophobia and sexism as a result of her rhetoric, but that sexual and reproductive rights are in real danger. Now, their fears are one step closer to reality.

From openDemocracy

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