The last Italian general elections marked a political change on the wave of ‘antiestablishment feelings’ that brought the rise of a right wing populist government, composed by Lega and 5 Star Movement (M5S). The electoral turmoil – which registered the eclipse of the traditional parties (PD and Forza Italia) and the rise of the two antisystem parties - has been explained as the results of the 2008 economic crisis and the followed fiscal-austerity policies in line with the EU guidelines (D’Alimonte 2019). The new government, entered in office on June 2018 after that the two party leaders Di Maio and Salvini signed a contract, is mainly based on anti-europeanism and anti-establishment programmes.
In this paper we aim to explore the impact of the changed political scenario on equality and diversity policies. In particular, we will examine the role played by the Lega. The former party of the North has recently turned into a nationalist and sovereignist force. A rapid switch, made possible mainly thanks to a cleaver propaganda strategy: the exacerbation of identity/alterity issues (above all centred on migratory flows, reframed as invasion), and the implementation of law and order, authoritarian policies (Albertazzi, Giovannini and Seddone 2018; Passarelli, Tuorto, 2018). In this context, various anti-equality Italian groups have found political space and representation (Prearo, Lavizzari, 2018), thanks to the intermediation of Lega. These actors, now in power position, are following a double strategy: on the one hand, they propose new anti-equality bills (such as the ddl Pillon on divorce, separation and child custody); on the other, they attack already existing rights and policies (same sex partnership; abortion and reproductive rights; equality programmes at school) (Bellè, Peroni and Rapetti, 2018).
In sum, by considering the Italian case we aim to explore the following questions: Why and how are the (re-)emerged anti-equality forces successful in mobilizing and attracting electoral support? How and to what extent do changes in the Italian political context influenced gendered norms and practices in politics and society? What are the challenges faced by actors who are (in)directly targeted by oppositional forces, including women and LGBT movements, equal rights activists, progressive policy actors and gender scholars? In dealing with these issues, the paper will be structured as follows: reconstruction of the main features of the socio-political context (structure of political opportunities for the anti-gender actors and for the Lega; formation of a reactionary alliance); analysis of the dominant populist and anti-gender discourses now in power (official records, government declaration, parliamentary debates and reports, media coverage); identification of possible strategies of gender scholars and activists to resist, react and advocate in front of specific decisions against gender and sexual equality.