PADUA (ITALY) - Thousands of Italians paid their last respects Tuesday to a university student killed by her ex-boyfriend, a case that has triggered nationwide grief and rage at violence against women.
The funeral of 22-year-old Giulia Cecchettin at a basilica in Padua, near Venice, attracted fellow students, public officials and ordinary Italians in a show of solidarity against one of the country's most recent and most shocking episodes of femicide.
Cecchettin, who was studying biomedical engineering at the University of Padua, was stabbed to death last month by her former boyfriend, fellow student Filippo Turetta, who confessed to the murder before a judge, according to his lawyer.
Under grey skies, pallbearers carried Cecchettin's rose-covered coffin into the Basilica of Santa Giustina, where mourners included Italy's justice minister, as thousands of people gathered in the piazza outside.
"Giulia's life was cruelly taken, but her death can and must be the turning point to end the terrible scourge of violence against women," her father, Gino, said in his eulogy.
"In this time of grief and sadness we need to find the strength to react, and turn tragedy into a push for change," he added.
He implored men to "challenge the culture that tends to minimise violence by men who appear normal".
The killing of Cecchettin, who was due to graduate just days after her death, was front-page news in Italy and ushered in a period of national reflection on violence against women.
The couple disappeared on November 11. Turetta was found in Germany a week later, the day after Cecchettin's body was found in a gully near Lake Barcis, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Venice.
She had been stabbed more than 20 times in the head, neck and body, according to local media, citing the autopsy report.
- 88 femicides -
Marking what activists had hoped would be a turning point in Italy, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Rome, Milan and other cities on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, calling for cultural change.
Giorgia Meloni, the country's first woman prime minister, assured women on Facebook "they are not alone," reminding them of the call-centre number for victims of violence or stalking.
According to the interior ministry, as of November 26, 107 women in Italy were murdered this year, of whom 88 were killed by family members or current or former partners.
Inconsistent official data on femicides makes comparisons with other European countries difficult.
Following Cecchettin's death, Italy's parliament adopted a package of bills to strengthen existing laws to protect women.
But critics say a cultural change is needed in the treatment of women, starting with compulsory education on the topic in schools.
- Cultural problem -
Despite the recent attention, many see such crimes continuing unabated in the majority-Catholic country, where traditional gender roles still hold sway in many areas, with fewer women working outside than home than the EU average and where abortion is hard to access.
A July 2021 report from the government's department of gender equality found that "while violence is unacceptable for more than 90 percent of people, in some regions of Italy up to 50 percent of men consider violence in relationships to be acceptable."
In a speech last month, the newly appointed president of the Tribunal of Milan, Fabio Roia, who has advocated for better training on gender violence among prosecutors, judges and law enforcement, warned that much was yet to be done.
"Violence against women that goes as far as femicide is a cultural and social problem, and unfortunately the power imbalance in gender relations is still strong," said the judge.
A 2020 independent report measuring Italy's compliance with the Council of Europe's convention on preventing violence against women encouraged more extensive awareness campaigns and better training of professionals, among other measures.
It also recommended Italy "pursue proactive and sustained measures to promote changes in sexist social and cultural patterns of behaviour, especially of men and young boys, that are based on the idea of inferiority of women".
The report also urged Italy to put in place national guidelines for education in schools on "affectivity, sexuality and reproductive health".