by Alessandra Cardone
ROME, March 9 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of women in Italy on Wednesday went on strike and staged rallies across the country to mark the International Women's Day.
Supported by most unions in the private and public sectors, many left work to join the protest against gender and family violence, calling for more equality in the society.
The move was part of an international "Day Without Women" campaign involving some 40 countries, and is considered a tradition in Italy.
In most of Italian cities, thousands of women and hundreds of men as well took to the streets. In the capital, the public transport network was heavily disrupted for most of the day, and many schools and health facilities halted or reduced their services.
In Rome, they gathered around the Colosseum, bearing pink symbols everywhere. "This March 8 is quite different for me, because we have prepared this demonstration since November," Patrizia, a volunteer with Differenza Donna (Different Woman) association, told Xinhua at the rally.
"Our specific goal is to bring forward a new national plan against gender violence, since we do not like the current situation, nor the proposals submitted by our lawmakers so far," Patrizia said.
The association manages three free centers in Rome for victims of gender violence, trafficking, and for women in deprived conditions respectively.
"Italy pays little attention to the issue, and especially lacks adequate funds to support centers like ours, which assist a high number of women and mothers with very poor means," Patrizia added.
A younger woman, Irene, saw the issue in a wider perspective: gender violence -- whether in family or society -- comes from a general lack of a "culture of respect," she said.
"Discriminations against women occur every day in Italy, both in the working environment and in private life."
The result is that Italian women would have a feeble influence on their country's life.
A new law targeting perpetrators and assisting victims with larger tools was approved in mid 2013. Yet, data show that gender violence remains an issue for Italy.
Some 108 women were killed by husbands, male partners or male relatives in the country in 2016, following 111 victims of "femicide" in 2015, and 117 in 2014, according to the Interior Ministry. At least 11,400 cases of "persecutory acts" against women were also registered last year.
Yet, the country made some improvements as well. It ranked first, along with Luxembourg, in terms of gender wage gap in the European Union (EU), according to statistics office Eurostat.
Based on the latest data available (2015), Eurostat said Italy's average pay gap was 5.5 percent, well below other major European partners such as Germany with 22 percent, France with 15.8 percent, Spain with 14.9 percent, Britain with 20.8 percent, and Sweden with 14 percent.
The average gap was 16.3 percent in the EU, and 16.8 percent in the euro-zone.
On the other hand, the participation of Italian women in the job market remains among the lowest in the EU, as well as the number of women in managerial positions.