Friday Inspiration: Lucia Annibali and the fight to end #ViolenceAgainstWomen

November 24, 2016

Three years ago, Italian lawyer Luca Varani paid two men to break into his ex-girlfriend’s flat and attack her with acid – a vicious act of vengeance that would see Lucia Annibali undergo seven operations, leave her partially blind and alter the course of her life forever.

Smart and successful, Lucia Annibali’s only fault was falling in love with a seemingly charming, attractive man. She is not weak and she was not to blame - she could have been any one of us and any one of us, at any time, could become her.

Lucia and Luca Varani met at a law firm in the Italian coastal town of Pesaro. The attraction between them was immediate and compelling, and their professional relationship quickly became personal. 

Over the three years they were together, his treatment of her veered from passionate love one minute, to disinterest, anger and lies the next. 

Finally, she discovered his secret; he had been seeing another woman simultaneously, to which he was now engaged. She told him that she was leaving and that this time, she would never come back – a show of strength that would eventually lead to Varani being sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Lucia Annibali three years on from the attack (how amazing does she look?!) - image: iodonna.it
I heard this story for the first time yesterday evening, when I settled down to watch Italian drama Io Ci Sono. The graphic imagery of the attack made difficult watching – but it was only after half an hour I realised, with horror, that it documented a true story.

The use of acid is one of the most chilling forms of violence immaginable. It strips a woman of her looks, her confidence - her identity. If it happened to me, I cannot even begin to think how I would react; I can only hope that it would be with the grace and strength shown by Lucia Annibali.

I do not hold grudges. Inside me, I do not cultivate anger. Now, I want to look forward – and the important thing is that make the most of my new life”, she said, upon hearing Varani’s sentence.

He hates me. He wanted me dead, but I'm here to smile and feel still beautiful, despite everything.”

Unfortunately, Lucia’s story – though extreme - is not uncommon. Almost a third of women between the ages of 16 and 70 in Italy have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a man. Worldwide, this figure is higher still and in some areas, such as new New Delhi, 92 per cent of women have reported experiencing some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime.

In Italy, a country that I now call home, I feel a surge of pride when I see the force with women are using their influence to tackle this issue.

Italy is one of only 22 of the 47 members of the Council of Europe to have ratified the Istanbul Convention, a treaty obliging member states to address violence against women it in all its forms and take measures to prevent it. It is worth mentioning here that, although the UK has signed the treaty, it has still yet to ratify it and bring it into force.

Earlier this week, the drama based on Lucia Annibali’s ordeal was screened in the Italian parliament as part of a campaign to tackle violence against women. It was introduced by the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, a fierce advocate for women’s rights and one of only three women to have held her position in Parliament. She spoke openly to the men listening, saying:

“You are with us in this battle. This is a battle that has advantages for all - not just for women. Because a society that does not respect women tramples on the rights of all of its citizens.”

And she’s right. Violence against women is structural violence. A violence that is used to sustain male power and control and, as long as it continues, we will never be equal.
Laura Boldrini with Lucia Annibali at the screening of Io Ci Sono
Luca Varani’s sentence may have brought some closure for Lucia and her family; but as we speak, there are many women who have yet to see their attackers brought to justice. Let it not be forgotten that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members

In 2014, Lucia Annibali was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic for her “courage, determination and dignity in the face of the attack, and her work since that moment to promote awareness of the violence perpetrated against women in her country. In one of the film's final scenes, she speaks to a group of young students (and yes, this is the part where I cried):

"I want you all to know this: any form of violence committed against you is not your fault. It is not your fault for making the wrong choice, or for choosing the wrong man - it is the fault of the one who committed it. Love is never shown through violence - never."

Until this is clear to every person on this planet, November 25th will always need to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. For Lucia, and for the millions of other women struggling both publicly and in private, we will continue to fight to end #ViolenceAgainstWomen.
Lucia Annibali with Cristiana Capotondi, who played Lucia in Io Ci Sono - image: iodonna.it