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Inspiring Thursday: Adele Faccio

Adele Faccio taught women to stand up for their rights. Thanks to her, women can enjoy rights which were unimaginable up to even a few decades ago and which are taken for granted nowadays.

Born in 1920 in Pontebba, in Italy, Adele Faccio was a deputy of the Radical Party (Partito Radicale) who dedicated her entire life to change the mentality and customs of Italian society towards women’s sexual autonomy, freedom and emancipation, when women’s sexuality was inextricably related to reproduction and that women were sexually passive. She advocated for access to information concerning women´s sexual and reproductive rights, giving women the freedom to make autonomous and informed decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality, and whether or not to reproduce.

During university, she developed her political awareness which led her to join partisans in the fight for the liberation of Italy from fascism. In Spain, she learned the techniques of civil disobedience, which she put into practice years later in Italy during her demonstrations.

In the 1950s, Adele became a teacher and wrote many articles on feminism for the magazine “La via femminile”, where her interest for illegal abortion, women´s body exploitation and women´s mortality rates, began. Feminism was the cornerstone of all her battles; activism in feminist unions, women’s associations advocating for contraception and sexuality education, legalization of divorce, changes to family law that made men and women equal partners in a marriage, and the law allowing abortion.

Before the legalization of abortion, there was a lack of access to contraception or information and a lack of knowledge about sex. Illegal abortion was the most widely practiced form of birth control and the third biggest cause of death for women in Italy. Causing the abortion of a consenting woman could result in a prison sentence of between one and five years for both the woman and the person who carried out the procedure.

In 1973, together with other political activists, including Emma Bonino, Adele the Centre for Information on Sterilization and Abortion (Centro d’Informazione sulla Sterilizzazione e sull’Aborto, CISA) in Milan. The new centre became the touchstone for thousands of women and girls who wanted to abort safely. For the first time, women could ask for advice on contraception and abortion and, more importantly, the centre prevented women from having illegal, unsafe and unaffordable abortions.

In 1975, during a demonstration, she was arrested for 36 days for having announced that she had practiced abortion voluntarily. During her detention, Adele campaigned for the fight against illegal abortion, civil disobedience and raised awareness among the inmates about the stigmatization of women in the society. She also protested for the fact that only her party colleague, Gianfranco Spadaccia, who was arrested with her, was allowed to use the typewriter, because he was a man. She was only allowed to use the sewing machine.

In 1976, Adele took part in the drafting of Law 194 for the social protection of motherhood and voluntary termination of pregnancy, which entered into force in 1978. In the end, she did not approve the final version because it represented the result of too many mediations between state and church, with many limitations and few chances of application.

Adele was one of a kind. Through her numerous demonstrations, her arrest, her conferences in schools and in the streets, especially for young girls, her speeches and texts about feminism, autonomy, economic independence, freedom of thought and rejection of traditional roles, made her a symbol for those who asked for a safe and legal abortion. As she said, “We must insist for the mandatory education of contraception in every school, before puberty (..) abortion has to be freely agreed by the woman and her doctor and it has to be free of charge. We have to fight in this direction to give women the opportunity to gain the autonomy they need to decide independently, with no restraints, about their body and feel empowered (..) Sexuality is the deepest part of every freedom, there is no freedom without sexual freedom”.

By Chiara Paganelli, WAVE Intern


Adele Faccio

[en] Women denied rights in Italy

Cinque anni senza l’Adele

Adele Faccio e la disobbedienza civile per il diritto a un aborto sicuro