You might think that a woman who has faced repeated rape and death threats would be ready to give up on men. But in the case of Italian politician Laura Boldrini, the abuse has had the exact opposite effect.
“We have to start with boys, with men,” Boldrini, the former president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies—Italy’s lower house of parliament—said at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women International Summit in London on Monday. “We have to educate them on supporting equal rights.”
Boldrini came to Italian politics from the United Nations, where she advocated for refugee rights. After her election to parliament in 2013, she has received thousands of death and rape threats.
Speaking to the London Summit attendees, she addressed the online abuse she continues to receive from Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing League party and, as of June, Italy’s minister of the interior. Salvini has compared her to a blow-up sex doll and posted calls for her to be raped or killed on social media.
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Boldrini explained the discrimination she has faced as a progressive woman in the public spotlight, saying that rather than directly challenge her views, Salvini uses “sexism as a political weapon, instigation to rape as a political weapon.”
Anytime a refugee or migrant committed a crime, Salvini came for Boldrini on social media. “And not just me,” she said. “I’m an adult and I can cope, but he targeted my daughter also.”
Her daughter received threats as well, including photoshopped images of her decapitation and rape.
“She is always telling me ‘Go ahead and be you. I know you are doing this on behalf of me and other girls,'” Boldrini said of her daughter.
“Why do we as women have to accept this? Why is this considered almost normal?” she asked, emphasizing the need to forge alliances. “If you don’t react, it will be the beginning of the end.”
Due to her own experience and trends in the country, Boldrini wanted to establish a parliamentary committee to assess the level of hatred in country. Italy was the first member of the European Union to conduct such an investigation, and in July 2017 the committee released a report of its conclusions, which found that women faced the most hatred in the country followed by homosexuals and migrants.
“If you have a woman who is also an advocate for human rights, you understand how everything comes together and why I received such hatred,” she said.
Boldrini stressed that the momentum of the #MeToo movement has not penetrated Italian society, where only three actresses have called out men in the industry for sexual misconduct—only to be largely dismissed by the Italian media.
She remarked on Asia Argento’s bravery in coming forward about her alleged rape by Harvey Weinstein when she was in her 20s, saying that in Italy, Argento’s decision to go public with the accusation led her to be compared to liars, prostitutes, and opportunists. Boldrini added that after the death of her boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, last week, many on social media blamed Argento for his suicide.
Boldrini also condemned the proliferation of fake news, calling it “the antechamber of hatred,” and criticized the human rights violations of Vladmir Putin’s Russia.
She echoed Madeline Albright’s sentiment that there is a “special place in hell” for women who do not help other women.
“There are female MPs who do not want to spend their reputation on gender equality because they think they lose credibility,” Boldrini said. “If women do not commit themselves, who else should?”
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