Reuters, UK, By Shasta Darlington, December 3, 2004
ROME (Reuters) - Italy's first "shelter" for divorced dads will open in the northern city of Bolzano on Saturday as fathers step up the fight for their rights in a country long dominated by the Italian "mamma".
Divorced and separated men who have been forced to give up their houses and empty their pockets for child support can apply for one of the five rooms with private bath in the communal home which could soon be copied across Italy.
"We've been working with couples for 20 years and we realised there was a real need for the party who has left the family home and can't afford their own house," said Elio Cirimbelli, president of ASDI, an association that counsels couples in crisis and created the Bolzano pilot project.
"And in the vast number of cases that party is the father."
The "shelter", which has been partly funded by the provincial government, will be open to fathers who take home less than 650 euros every month after payments to their estranged families. They will pay 200 euros rent.
It is just the latest initiative aimed at recognising divorced fathers' rights and the challenges they face in Italy.
Fathers may have a unique challenge in mamma-loving Italy but they are not alone.
In Great Britain, activists from a group called Fathers 4 Justice have staged several headline-grabbing stunts.
One campaigner dressed as Santa Claus last month and chained himself to the top of a gate pillar at Buckingham Palace, the London home of Queen Elizabeth. Another activist clambered on to the building's main balcony dressed as Batman and staged a five-hour protest.
In Italy, mothers get custody of children -- which automatically gives them rights over the house -- in 90 percent of all divorces and separations.
"When it comes to separation and custody there is always this preconception that the fathers are the villains and the mothers the heroines," said Ernesto Emanuele, president of the group Separated Dads.
Separated Dads was started 15 years ago, but its long-running drive for a joint-custody bill is only expected to make it to parliament next year.
"In Europe, we're at the bottom of the list in terms of fathers' rights, but things are changing and people are beginning to talk about the issues," he said. "Women's magazines are doing the best job."
In a sign of the changing times, four fathers' rights groups staged the first protest in November to demand more rights. Some 500 dads turned out.
"It's a long process, but fathers are slowly winning equal opportunities when it comes to their kids," Cirimbelli said.