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Italy’s Fertility Day Falls Flat Amid Claims of Sexism, Racism

Fertility Day was aimed at helping Italians "get busy" to boost the country's record-low birthrate, but the nationwide drive culminating Thursday delivered little more than controversy.

The first signs of fertility furor surrounded an ad campaign launched ahead of events exploring reproductive health that sparked allegations of sexism and racism.

Image: Ad put out by Italy's Health Ministry promoting Fertility Day
Ad put out by Italy's Health Ministry promoting Fertility Day. Ministero della salute via Twitter

The Health Ministry posted tweets in August showing a young woman holding an hourglass under the slogan “Beauty knows no age, fertility does.” Another warned: “Hurry up! Don’t wait for the stork.”

The posts and pamphlets drew scorn and condemnation on social media, with critics saying people needed help finding work — not boosting their fertility.

"According to Italy’s survey agency, women dream of having two children, but only give birth to 1.3 on average. They need work and help to families," leading newspaper La Stampa wrote in a front-page story.

Instead of backtracking, Italy's Health Ministry published another pamphlet with two images on its cover. One showed two smiling white couples on the seaside under the slogan: "Good habits to promote."

The second photo showed a white woman sitting with a drinking black man and a black woman appearing to smoke a marijuana. The accompanying slogan read: "Bad company to leave behind."

Users soon began to post messages under #fertilityfake as well as the official hashtag #fertilityday.

At first the ministry was unrepentant, defending the campaign and saying on its website that "racism is in the eye of the beholder." It later withdrew and pamphlet and removed the employee responsible for it.

That did little to stem the backlash, which continued right up through Thursday's events. Protesters turned out with signs saying they were "expecting" jobs and salaries, not babies.

Image: 'Fertility Day
A protester holds a sign reading 'I am expecting income!' on Thursday. GIUSEPPE LAMI / EPA

While perhaps bungled, there are reasons behind government's effort at boosting fertility.

Recent statistics show Italy has the European Union's lowest birthrate, with eight babies born for every 1,000 residents. One couple out of five has difficulties in conceiving naturally, according to the Italian Ministry of Health.