People celebrated Eid al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan in July in the Parco Dora park in Turin, Italy. (Marco Bertorello/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Italy has a major domestic violence problem. The United Nations has called domestic abuse the "most pervasive form of violence" in the country, affecting nearly one-third of all girls and women ages 16 to 70.

It's one horrifying illustration of the struggles many Italian women face. "While the rest of the world is advancing towards gender equality, we women in Italy are stuck in time, living permanently in a subordinate role," Lorella Zanardo, whose documentary "Il Corpo delle Donne" critiques sexism on Italian TV, told Newsweek. Women "are treated like pieces of prosciutto."

That's true at work, too, where the pay gap between men and women in Italy is widening quickly and half of the country's women stay home. "Women actually started moving backwards," politician Emma Bonino told Newsweek.

But in the northern region of Liguria, local officials are considering a different strategy, right in time for International Women's Day: banning women in Islamic face veil from hospitals and other public institutions.

The officials defend the move in explicitly feminist terms. Regional president Giovanni Toti called the burqa -- a loose garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the body and face -- "the worst symbol of the oppression of women." He told the English-language news website The Local, "Those who live in Italy need to grasp and respect at least the minimum rules of equality between men and women."

In the same news article, national politician Matteo Salvini praised the proposal as a "concrete initiative" to protect women's freedom amid a "flood of useless chatter that accompanies Women's Day."


If a measure banning women wearing certain head coverings is approved, these signs will appear in hospitals around Liguria. (Courtesy of The Local)

Others don't see it that way. Critics charge that the measure is discriminatory and possibly unconstitutional. The Italian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and so banning the trappings of a particular faith is not allowed. (The measure's supporters argue that it's not discriminatory, because the law would ban people from wearing balaclavas and motorcycle helmets in the hospital, as well.) Raffaella Paita, a Liguria politician from a rival party, argued that the measure would "create tensions" between native Italians and the country's sizable immigrant population. About 5 million foreigners live in Italy, or 10 percent of the population.

"If a woman turns up to the emergency room wearing a burqa, what is the doctor meant to do?" Paita told the Local. "Tell her to go elsewhere?"

Others agreed. In a Facebook post, local resident Alice Salvatore wrote, "The idea that in 2017, a woman could be forbidden access to essential healthcare solely based on the clothes she is wearing is horrifying."

The fight underscores a much bigger challenge in Italy -- figuring out how the country's 1.4 million Muslims fit into its broader culture. Islam is not recognized as an official religion (although as The Washington Post has pointed out, that may change soon). The result is a lot of little indignities: It's very hard to build mosques (there are only eight in the country), Islamic weddings have no legal value and Muslim workers aren’t entitled to take days off for religious holidays. At the same time, 69 percent of Italians say they hold negative views toward Islam, the highest of any European country.

The measure will be voted on this Friday.