A threatening sign has been hung near the home of Uber’s top executive in Italy, who is already under some police protection, amid speculation that the government is seeking to relax competition laws for taxis.
Benedetta Arese Lucini, who has served as general manager for Uber Italy for two years, said the sign was evidence of a cultural bias against female entrepreneurs in Italy.
The sign, which was hung on an electrical line, revealed the executive’s home address and insinuated that she was a prostitute who gave her services for free to Milan’s top transportation official.
“This is a hard thing to say, to be honest,” Arese Lucini said. “It’s the tip of the iceberg really of the harsh behaviour [I’ve witnessed] and this is not really about Uber, but how a woman’s image gets degraded because she is trying to bring about change.”
Uber operates in five Italian cities – Milan, Turin, Padua, Genoa and Rome – and has faced particularly fierce resistance in Milan, where the firm said its drivers have had threatening encounters and their vehicles damaged. The powerful taxi unions are vehemently opposed to the group. In protests last year, posters were plastered on taxi stands in Milan with photographs of Arese Lucini’s face and the words “I love to steal”. She also had eggs thrown at her during a conference.
“Let’s say that I have tried my best to live my life as normally as possible. I don’t appreciate that my home address was exposed. This was the time I felt the most unsafe,” she said.
The sign was hung following a media report that suggested government ministers would move ahead on a proposal to liberalise the taxi market. The legislation would then have to be passed by parliament.
The incident caught the attention of Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for the Corriere della Sera newspaper, who said the attack against the Uber executive was a emblematic of a problem in Italy against women. “If Benedetta had been an American manager, a Ben or a Stan with a hipster moustache, the tone would have been different,” he wrote. “It’s up to [the taxi drivers in Milan] to stop this.”
The Milan incident occurred weeks after Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, said European expansion was one of the company’s top priorities this year. Uber has successfully lobbied for legislative and regulatory changes in jurisdictions in the US and elsewhere and has promised to mimic those efforts in European cities. The company is facing legal challenges in Germany, Spain and France.
This article was written by Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12th February 2015 18.41 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010