When Federico Batini, an Italian academic, wanted to research classroom bullying, he distributed a questionnaire to 54 schools in central Italy. The survey was carried out in partnership with local education authorities and sought to explore the extent to which young people faced racial, homophobic, or gender-based discrimination from their peers.
But instead of learning more about students’ experiences, Batini found his name smeared in the national media and his research abruptly discontinued. A senator from the far-right League party condemned Batini’s questionnaire as “gender indoctrination.” A national conservative daily, La Verità, berated the survey as “crazy gender ideology.” Then the Italian education minister, Marco Bussetti, a member of the League, blocked the questionnaire altogether.
Batini’s lurch from an innocuous regional research project to the political spotlight follows a growing pattern across Europe. Last August, a UNESCO project proposal on gender equality in schooling in Bulgaria was barred by that country’s education ministry. In October, university programs in gender studies were banned outright in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán continues to fortify his oxymoronic vision of “illiberal democracy.” Alternative for Germany (AfD), the first far-right party to enter the German Parliament since the Second World War, has similarly pledged to discontinue all gender-studies funding, university appointments, and research. Elsewhere in Italy, a gender-related conference at the University of Verona was canceled after a far-right group threatened to shut the event down by force. And in Sweden, where the far-right Swedish Democrats made significant gains in last year’s elections, several buildings were evacuated in December when a suspicious package was discovered outside the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research, part of the University of Gothenburg.