The power of Le Curandaie

Grassroots feminism stirs Le Cure’s social fabric

Alice Fischetti
March 1, 2018 - 17:20

Fifty years after the rumblings of Italy’s 1968 Feminist Revolution, today Italian feminism makes headlines for its “dire” state. Indeed, the country is often criticized for lacking affordable childcare and initiatives that facilitate economic independence (and that excludes sweeping generalizations regarding its overtly sexist social norms).


Even the New York Times joined the fuss, making a clique-based concept out of Italian women’s relationships. Generalizations of Italy’s backwards stance on gender politics were subsequently attacked, voices emphasizing the lack of coverage of established Italian second-wave feminists.


When it comes to female solidarity in Italy, general consensus points to the muddled political situation in general. For many women, an apparent lack of tightknit female communities is only the iceberg of the situation. At the roots, we find a clear shift in the workings of the Italian family, the “base of Italian society” where rifts and changes have brought both need for institutional substitutes and scarcer female support systems.

The space aims “to help women achieve their full potential,” by offering legal counsel, an on-site therapist, childcare, yoga classes and other low-cost or free activities.


This is what Serena Berti tells me, co-founder of Florence’s Le Curandaie, a powerhouse association that tackles the issue of female solidarity head on. “It’s not just Florence,” she explains. “Italy has always been known—even in the States—as the kind of place where everyone does everything together… especially for the value it places on family.”



photo by Alice Fischetti



In Le Cure, this national problem (namely the lack of support systems for women) became a personal one for Berti and her co-founder Costanza Vaiani Lisi. For these career-driven working mothers, Le Cure’s community transformed largely thanks to two-parent working households and having children later in life. For a family-based society, Berti explains, older grandparents (as a result of older parents) means working families can rely less on family for child aid. And with grandparents out of the mix, the women saw a lack of alternative help in their community. “There are a lot of factors that led to us founding Le Curandaie,” she continues, “but this is one of the main reasons we realized {Le Cure} needs an association like ours.”


The two created Le Curandaie as a springboard for women and mothers struggling in their daily life, especially when facing the prospect of entering or re-entering the work world. Their mission is to provide a network of cultural, economic and social initiatives for women, a space “where women can meet and discuss their problems together,” and more importantly, “realize that they’re not alone.”


In olden days, the curandaie were the area’s washerwomen, ladies that “curated” rough and yellowed linen to a soft, white material. “A good curandaia was never without stone,” their motto reads, and they too, as buone curandaie, provide the necessary tools and safety net for supporting women in their personal endeavors. The space aims “to help women achieve their full potential,” by offering legal counsel, an on-site therapist, childcare, yoga classes and other low-cost or free activities.



photo by Alice Fischetti



Berti affirms that Italy is quite advanced when it comes to maternity rights. In fact, women in Italy have the right to at least five months maternity leave with at least 80 percent salary (though companies often pay 100 percent during leave). Yet the issue boils down to the aid provided immediately after birth: “There’s not much help with maternity blues, with getting back into the work world… so that’s the role we try to fill… Our role right now is to inform women what services they are entitled to and to create a space for them to share their experiences.”


Despite their initial motherhood mission, the young association has become a full-blown safe space “for women by women,” not just mothers. To this end, they have grown to employ theater as a means of community formation. Teachers Chiara and Julieta embrace the Meisner technique in their ME_DEA theater lab, classes that consist of improvisation and the collaborative creation of a final play. Autonomous action is a key issue faced by community members; the theater lab thus focuses on the notion of “freeing oneself from the defenses and habits that prevents {a person} from acting in their own nature.” Though only a small sample of their many activities, the lab reflects Le Curandaie’s 360-degree approach to aiding its members, from practical aid to moral and emotional support.


Strolling around Le Cure, passersby often mistake Le Curandaie for a trendy shop. Located next to a neighborhood favorite pasta boutique, its airy windows and colorful displays materialize into a cool collaborative space. As the association becomes ever more woven into the fabric of Le Cure’s community life, their aesthetic plays a central role in what they do: the problems faced by the community’s women are the same Berti and Vaiani Lisi faced themselves. For the community by the community, Le Curandaie is democracy at its finest.



Founders Serena Berti and Costanza Vaiani Lisi



I, too, an observer-turned-participant of the theater workshop, felt strangely comfortable in the cozy Curandaie space. Welcomed with open arms, I saw in these women the same sense of solidarity observed in the powerful U.S. women’s movements I have been following from afar. In days where political uncertainty leads to voids in community life, Le Curandaie are the women pulling up their sleeves to pick up slack-a small but mighty association of women redefining Le Cure’s urban life.

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