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All you need to know about First Officially Recognized Female Gondolier of Venice

Giorgia Boscolo remains the only woman permitted to officially operate a gondola to this day

Giorgia Boscolo
Giorgia Boscolo, Venice's first Gondoliera, rowing the Traghetto San Samuele. wikimedia
  • 24-year-old Giorgia Boscolo  successfully managed to turn the tide in a profession that has been a pillar of the historic city since 1094
  • The issue of gender in Venice’s centuries-old gondolier community made headlines again with a canal rower who came out as transgender
  • Chiara Curto turned her passion for rowing into a profession when she successfully passed exams last year to row a flat-bottomed boat known as a sandolo

Venice, July 3, 2017: What do you see when someone mentions Venice, the beautiful Italian city? Most of us will say we see ourselves sitting in a gondola listening to a melodious tune the gondolier hums. Needless to say, the gondolier is male of course.

Venice’s gondoliers were exclusively male for nearly a millennium. Handing down the prestigious role of a gondolier from father to son has been a tradition for a very long period. It wasn’t until 2010 that 24-year-old Giorgia Boscolo  successfully managed to turn the tide in a profession that has been a pillar of the historic city since 1094.

Boscolo did not shy away from following in the footsteps of her father, Dante, who had been working as a gondolier for 40 years. It was not easy for her though, she was granted the licence to guide tourists through the city’s majestic canals after passing a demanding course of six months. After that, Boscolo became the first officially recognised female gondolier. Finally the mould in a guild that had a long history of resistance directed at women was broken.

In no time, the groundbreaking news of her job spread across Italy. It would be natural to expect a plethora of applications from other women to follow. But that did not happen. Aldo Reato, the president of Venice’s gondoliers’ association, explained “We don’t get women enrolling, you’d have to ask them why. There have been some others who have tried, but failed the exam. Plenty of women do take part in regattas, but for many it’s not so easy to train to become a gondoliera, especially if they have small children to look after.”

Last week, The issue of gender in Venice’s centuries-old gondolier community made headlines again with a canal rower who came out as transgender. Once again the unique transport history of the city was brought into the spotlight.

Alex Hai opted for Facebook to make the announcement and also appeared in an interview on the American radio show and podcast Radiolab. Hai, who had taken the gondoliers’ test four times as a woman but failed each time, said that the examiners were “overly strict” and accused the 425-strong association of deliberately keeping him out at that time because of his sex. The claim has been strongly refuted by the association. In 2015, Hai won a court battle to operate as a gondolier privately for a hotel chain owned by a local aristocrat.

Reato believes it is certainly not easy for anyone to pass the gondolier exam, regardless of their gender. He says, “It’s a very technical job and involves lots of different skills, like watching for weather patterns.” The key is definitely navigation skills, but a basic knowledge of English and a good understanding of the city’s landmarks is important as well. There are just 40 places on the gondolier course each year and the preparation procedure includes 400 hours of instruction in the use of the single oar used to propel the gondola through the canals.

According to The Gurdian, Boscolo remains the only woman permitted to officially operate a gondola to this day. In Venice, The main form of transport for more than a century has been the ancient 35ft, 6in vessel.  Before being welcomed by aristocrats when their preferred mode of transport, horses, were banned from the city’s narrow streets in the 14th century, these vessels were used for ferrying the lower echelons of society around. By the 16th century, an estimated 10,000 gondolas were being used in Venice. But today the number has come down to 425.

Boscolo shares the Venetian waterways with just one other woman, but in a different craft. Chiara Curto, who is originally from Genoa, turned her passion for rowing into a profession when she successfully passed exams last year to row a flat-bottomed boat known as a sandolo or punt. There are around 40 such sandolos operating alongside gondolas for tourists.

There are stringent requirements for piloting the sandolo, just like a gondola. Curto was granted a licence after a similar six-month training process. “It is a tough process and a physically tiring job … there aren’t that many women who want to do it.” Curto said. She added that she had never been subjected to any sexism in the trade as her colleagues have been welcoming and supportive.

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But whoever is steering these ancient vessels, the presence of a clear solidarity can be felt when it comes to keeping the centuries-old tradition intact. Gondoliers held their first strike in the 1880s when Venice introduced a public motorised water bus service. That activism is prevalent even today, and gondoliers often protest against water taxis and speedboats, arguing that their reckless driving causes life-risks as they whip up waves that rock the smaller vessels floating nearby. In 2013, in an accident caused by a water bus crashing into a gondola a German tourist who was riding in with his family on the Grand Canal was killed.

According to Dominic Standish, a British professor of sociology based in Italy, “Ironically, the [gondolier] service has been maintained through the growth of tourism, and gondoliers have become unlikely champions of an ongoing war against the corrosive effects of big waves produced by motorboats, including the public water bus service. Inevitably, they are representative of Venice’s ancient traditions against the march of modern motorised water boats.”

Realto is adamant that he wishes more women would come on board as professional gondoliers. “Women do everything these days … they go to space, they fight in wars, so why not?”

After Giorgia Boscolo and Chiara Curto, why not?

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang




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Men too Suffer Under Patriarchy: Read Here!

Men are often faced with questions like "You're still pining over an unsuccessful relationship? Come on, boys don't cry" and "What do you mean you cook and your wife doesn't?" under the Indian patriarchy.

Patriarchy places immense pressure on men as well.
Men are often at turmoil, deciding how to confine to society's set expectations. Pixabay

New Delhi, July 30, 2017: 

FEMINISM – An issue that has been trending on all social media for a while now- the Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. From elaborate movements defending first-day-of–period leave and equal pay, the movement is finally seeing the light of the day in the Indian context.

However, when we focus on how feminism solely reimburses the women under patriarchy, we miss an extremely integral part of the conversation- the ways in which patriarchy affects men.

As a feminist, I have a lot of sympathy for men as well, for which I am almost always at the receiving end of a lot of flack. But I believe that it isn’t just women who are the victims of the society and its patriarchal conditioning, but men too!

We live in a society where the sight of a woman shedding a few tears doesn’t raise any eyebrows, but a man doing the same invites a buzzing swarm of ‘Haww! Look at him!’

The way it is acceptable for a woman to openly express, but the questioning of even the most trivial expressive actions of a man, highlights an imperative underlying problem that is being overlooked in the pretext of ‘patriarchy’.

The society and its collective mentality which says that a woman should stay at home while the man should be the bread earner of the family is the core factor for imbibing different upbringing for boys and girls.

And for some reason, breaking this stereotype does not get the same response.

A man breaking these stereotypes is greeted with a sea of questions.

“Why do you stay at home? A man’s true calling is out there, to work in the field amidst competition.”

“You’re still pining over an unsuccessful relationship? Come on, boys don’t cry.”

“What do you mean you cook and your wife doesn’t?”

While women defying popular stereotypes are flooded with appreciation, men often struggle to justify their stance at every step.

Ways in which patriarchy affects the Indian men-

  1. Toxic masculinity

Men get bullied too. Men face abuse too. And men have their heart broken too.

Because men are human too. Period.

However, the society expects men to never be open about their emotions, but ignore them and ‘toughen up’.  The societal standards for men are venomous- they are destructive and downright regressive.

A man is not supposed to cry, feel pain, or despair because well, ‘boys don’t cry’.

2. False implications 

False complaints of rape and dowry  not just blemish the image of a man, but his line of business, future possibilities, and physical and mental harmony.  Alas, there still are cases of false accusations to extort money or ruin another man’s life that men fight in the Indian patriarchy.

3. Sexual assault

Male rape victims have always been unvoiced sufferers. They are neither at the receiving end of compassion from the society, nor do they have appropriate laws in place for their defense. To add to the anguish, the society makes them feel as “less of a man” because they were assaulted at the hands of ‘frail’ women.

4. Monetary Pressure 

Men do not have a choice but to be bread winners for their families under this patriarchy, which sometimes comes at the cost of sacrificing their own aspirations. They have to think twice and are almost always ridiculed for taking a major career decision because they are always fraught with ‘responsibilities’ to shoulder.

5. Fatherhood 

A child has to be just the responsibility of a woman, apart from the financial aspect of child bearing- that specifically is a man’s domain. As long as a man can take care of all the finances, his assistance in other aspects of child care are not questioned, or asked for. This is the reason why basic concepts like a paternity leave are understood as a redundant notion.

ALSO READ: Girls Count: Uprooting patriarchy by recognizing the role of civil society

Just like women, men fight stereotypes on a daily basis, too. They are looked down upon if they don’t fit society’s set stereotypes- cooking, dancing, fashion continue to be domains not viewed as ‘manly’ enough. And the men who manage to scrap being type-casted to this concept of toxic masculinity prevalent in the Indian society are humiliated.

Equality between sexes is a long drawn battle.
Patriarchy exerts immense pressure on both the sexes in the Indian society. Pixabay

Popular opinion holds that in cases of domestic violence, men are the instigators while women suffer as victims. However, while this is the dominant course of actions, what cannot be ignored is that men are at the receiving end of this abuse, too.

According to the latest statistics by UK based ManKind initiative (released in February 2017), 4.4% of men stated that they have experienced domestic abuse in 2015-16, equivalent to an estimated 716,000 male victims. The same research pointed out  male victims (39%) are over three times as likely as women (12%) not to tell anyone about the partner-abuse they suffer from.

The reason that most female-perpetrated violence goes unreported is due to the stigma attached to it, apparent biases, and the promptness of the system to believe that a woman would never be in such a dominant position to overpower a man in any way possible.


A father’s role as a parent has also always been undermined, if not ignored by the society when in reality, his presence is as important as the mother’s.

These examples are simple, however thought-provoking of how men are type-cast to cater to notions that are not only ancient but also regressive.

What is important to understand is that gender equality should be both ways. Motivating a woman to work and cook for the family, but demeaning a man for doing the same is plain hypocrisy!

The goal should be to create a society where gender equality doesn’t mean the commemoration of women only but a society where issues are of key importance, rather than the combination of chromosomes one inherits.

– by Soha Kala of NewsGram. Twitter @SohaKala

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If Gods can be gay, why can’t we? Maori author Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to Maoris in New Zealand

Ihimaera's book 'Nights in the Gardens of Spain', a semi-autobiographical work about a married father of two daughters coming out, was turned into a movie

Witi Ihimaera. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

– by Preetha Nair

Sept 04, 2016: Aboriginal, litterateur, and rebel, Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to the Maoris in New Zealand. The first published novelist in Maori literature, the 72-year-old has several novels, short stories and recognitions to his credit.

September Aboriginal, litterateur, and rebel, Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to the Maoris in New Zealand. The first published novelist in Maori literature, the 72-year-old has several novels, short stories and recognitions to his credit.

His works were a harbinger of change to the Maoris, says Ihimaera who questioned in his works.

Ihimaera’s book ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain’, a semi-autobiographical work about a married father of two daughters coming out, was turned into a movie.

The author, who also worked as a diplomat at the New ZealandMinistry of Foreign Affairs, spoke to IANS on the sidelines of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival held in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan.

Maori People. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Maori People. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Excerpts from the interview:

Q) You were the first published novelist in Maori literature. How important is it to tell stories of the marginalised?

A) It is important to tell the story of the Maori in a world of huge voices and political entities. We are a minority, and also one among the many indigenous communities around the world. Our story will help give voice to other indigenous people whether they live in India, or North America or in South East Asia. We all have the same stories of colonisation.

Q) Did you face resistance from the West?

A) My life was always about resistance. We were denied educational opportunities and there was institutional racism. Our land has been taken away and I have seen my grandmothers struggling for land to farm. The consequence of our fight through literature and other means was that our land was returned after 30 years. The government is providing better housing and education for the Maoris now. There is a better understanding of Maori culture now and my work is a part of New Zealand’s curriculum.

Q) You came out of the closet in 1984 and have dealt with sexuality in your writings. How was it received?

A) One has to be brave when dealing with issues like rape and homosexuality. There is authentication of sexual identity in mythology that has been denied by the West. Europeans look towards Gods in Greek mythology who can shapeshift and make love with women, men and animals just like some Hindu gods. Why can’t we accept homosexuality in the way our mythology explains it? I operate in a Maori value system and don’t care what people say.

Witi Ihimaera memorial plaque in Dunedin. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Witi Ihimaera memorial plaque in Dunedin. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Q) In your memoir, you have written about being abused as a child. How difficult was it to write about it and what was the reaction?

A) I always adopt an organic approach to writing, looking at it culturally and socially. I wanted to address the issue of child abuse. My work has always been a shock to many. The Maori community is now largely Christian and it was difficult for them to acknowledge it. I am accustomed to shift the universe a little. That’s my theory of change. Each one of us has the power to change the system.

Q) Who’s your favourite Indian author?

A) It should be Arundhati Roy. She is an intellectual and erudite woman.


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Participation in solar projects will lead to women empowerment


Kolkata: If women in Indian villages start participating in solar electricity projects, planning and implementing maintenance they can challenge patriarchy and gender roles discrimination.

Karina Standal and Tanja Winther from the Centre of Development and Environment, University of Oslo, examined in a recent study how the introduction of electricity in new contexts (solar power) affected gender relations in rural communities in Uttar Pradesh in India and in Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

“In terms of empowerment, the women feel that access to solar electricity gave them an easier everyday life and sense of accomplishments in pursuing their roles as mothers and wives/daughters-in-law and the like. This is, of course, very important in raising their life quality,” Standal said in an email interaction from Norway.

Centred on community solar power plants (micro-grids) for generating livelihoods or household electricity in two UP villages and four in Bamiyan, the research revealed contrasting features in terms of inclusion of women in such projects and their ability to counter patriarchy.

The study was published in the Forum For Development Studies on January 20.

Standal elaborated that the Indian project provided women several benefits but did not elevate them to a position where they could actively challenge discriminatory gender relations. In the Afghan case female role-models trained and working as “solar engineers” meant that communities experienced the benefits of women working and receiving the education.

“The Indian case in mention did not have this element in the implementation. Rather, it saw it only useful to train men as ‘village operators’ with responsibilities for the solar equipment. In that sense, this project reinforces patriarchal structures that work to limit women’s role outside their home,” observed Standal.

What emerged was “when projects are carried out without women’s true and equal participation, as in the Indian case, there is lost potential in a more long-term empowerment to challenge discriminating gender roles”.

Standal said the Indian project did attempt at some female representation in Village Energy Committees that are responsible for the solar systems in their village and for the monthly payments from the villagers for the consumption, salary of the village operator, maintaining bank accounts, holding meetings and the like.

“However, the women did not participate in the Village Energy Committees, as they were not allowed to speak freely due to cultural restrictions on women,” Standal said, adding that this scenario “cannot be generalized to Indian villages implementing solar electricity in general”.

But the fact remains, both internationally and in the Indian context, that the issues and opportunities of gender equality and energy development have not been receiving enough attention, stressed Standal.

“Women (in the case studies) are only seen as important end-users and benefits are provided for them to have a better life within the existing patriarchal system,” said Standal laying strong emphasis on ensuring that “women are granted equal access to participation in such projects”.

“Participation (should be) at all levels and not reduced to certain areas to make the most of these energy projects.”

Standal said the Indian project was initiated by a private Norwegian company and executed as a public-private partnership between the company, the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA), Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and Norad (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation).

“The Afghan case was initiated by the NGO Norwegian Church Aid in support with the Indian Barefoot College. Their model of training women as Barefoot Solar Engineers is very interesting and I think has had several added values to the project in terms of impact on gender relations and more opportunities for women,” concluded the researcher.

Adding from her own experience in the field, Indian environmental economist Joyashree Roy of Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, concurred.

“True inclusion of a stakeholder (women) from very beginning helps in getting them to change maker,” Roy said.(IANS)

NewsGram View-Indian women need empowerment and this should be achieved through any means. If this participation helps then the women should be encouraged to take part in such projects.