Thanks to the antics of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi--his excursions with escorts, his insistence that beauty queens be included in his Parliament, his description of his country as a land of "beautiful secretaries"--Italy's getting slammed often these days for its culture of chauvinism. Now, the World Economic Forum's annual Gender Gap Report gives heft to those accusations. This year, Italy places a dismal number 79 (out of 134 ) on the ranking of nations by gender equality, falling five places from 2008. By contrast, the rest of Europe scored well: Scandinavian countries took the first four spots again this year, and eight other European nations placed in the top 20. Even Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan bested Italy, by 32 and 21 places, respectively.
Italy scored particularly poorly on measures of economic opportunity, because women account for only 43 percent of the workforce, and only one third of senior positions in Italian companies are held by females (compared with 43 percent in the U.S.). And Italy ranks among the worst (116) for equal pay for equal work.
While it's hard to accuse Berlusconi of being single-handedly responsible for keeping Italian women down, his crass comments reflect lingering cultural prejudices, critics say. Last month, more than 100,000 exasperated women signed a petition decrying Berlusconi's "sexist" remark to an opposition politician that she was "more beautiful than intelligent." His act sounds more like Borat every day, only women aren't laughing.