In 1927, the condition of women in India and in Italy was not so different as you might expect. I do not want to minimize the historical differences or erase the peculiarities of those two conditions: I simply want to highlight the similarities. In India, universal suffrage granted voting rights to all women only in 1950. In Italy, in 1946.
Italian women were legally subordinate to their husbands until 1975. The family law in force under the Fascist dictatorship entailed the subordination of the wife to her husband under all points of view (property and inheritance rights included, and children education issues as well). During Fascism, the Italian women were placed in a state of subjection and inferiority, crushed under a patriarchal system made even more rigid by the aggressive demands of Mussolini, whose politics aimed to turn women into obedient wives, fertile mothers (for the salvation of the fatherland, of course) and docile subjects. The family as a site of male patrilinear privilege was a characteristic of the Colonial Property Law in India, as well (see, for example, Mytheli Sreenivas, Conjugality and Capital: Gender, Families, and Property under Colonial Law in India, in the Bibliography).
During the Fascist Era (1922-1943), women’s wages were fixed by law at half of the men’s corresponding wages. Ushering in a strategy that would later be revived for anti-Semitic politics, women were formally prohibited from teaching letters and philosophy in high schools and some other subjects in technical colleges and middle schools; they were also banned from being headmasters or principals, while school fees were doubled for all girls. In the civil service and in the public sector, the recruitment of women was severely restricted, excluding them from invitations to tender and granting them a limited number of posts (usually 10%). They were also banned from making a career whatsoever and precluded from many prestigious positions within the public administration.
The Italian Fascist regime lowered the minimum age of marriage for women to 14 years (in 1929, in India, the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed, stipulating 14 as the minimum age of marriage for a girl). In the 1920s, the status of the mondine, the female seasonal paddy weeders of Northern Italy, and of the great majority of women coming from the lower, poorer, and marginalized strata of society was firmly secured to “another” cross by three kinds of nails (the first cross we met in India): the female lack of economic and political power, gender inequality and social discrimination.
Italian and Indian women were forbidden to have a public voice. However, both found a way to be heard. They sang out loud.
Like Indians and Italians, women living in many patriarchal societies had been toiling and singing at the same time. They sang to endure fatigue and put up with their destiny, to pass hours that seemed never to pass, and share something that was not pure pain. And singing loudly, they discovered the unknown universe of solidarity and dignity; they took courage and learned to impose their voices; they learned to fight for themselves and their rights. Ours, today.
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY?
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE A SINGING WOMAN.