(By Kate Carlisle)Rome, March 8 - Italian flagship carrier Alitalia celebrated International Women's Day with all-female-operated flights from Rome to Milan and back. The first of two Airbus A-320 flights piloted and attended exclusively by women, flight AZ 2028, took off Friday from Rome's Fiumicino airport at 9:00 am local time. Again at 11:00 am, AZ 2045 from Milan Linate returned to Rome. Both routes were in the hands of commander Barbara Plantulli Lambert, co-pilot Valentina Leone and flight attendants Giovanna Ruiu, Francesca Anzil and Matilde Marcelli. "What does this particular day mean? It is an encouragement for all women to fly high and fast because we can," Lambert said. All boarding women passengers were given a sprig of mimosa flower, the symbol of Women's Day in Italy. In addition, all crew wore a badge provided by the Italian emergency hotline Telefono Rosa to raise attention for the issue of violence against women. "Today's initiative is just one part of Alitalia's broad Corporate Social Responsibility program," the company said. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano presided over a ceremony held on Friday at the presidential palace in Rome celebrating International Women's day. The central theme given to the ceremony, 'Women between Light and Shadows', focused on the drama of violence and femicide in Italy, and equal opportunity for women in the workplace. With the February 24-25 elections, the percentage of women MPs rocketed from 20% to 31%, but the numbers are still much lower than European standards. Valuing women's contribution to the labour sector is not a matter that impacts only women, Napolitano underscored. "It also affects the country's overall economic well-being" as well as its "social cohesion", the Italian head of state said. Neglecting the issue results in "an absurd and unjust squandering of human resources that Italy cannot afford," he said. "Many talented youths emigrate and do not find suitable conditions in Italy to come back to. This is true as concerns talented females, as well". The Italian president noted that many women have been making a name for themselves in recent years in advanced research centres across Europe as well as in Italy. He stressed that creating an environment that fosters highly specialised workers means "awarding those that deserve it, investing much more in research, and supporting young women in all fields". He added that these aims are ones that "we would like to always see in Italian and European political agendas". As part of the ceremony held at the presidential palace, Labour Minister Elsa Fornero said that eliminating violence against women is "necessary and possible". The minister, who is also tasked with equal opportunities issues, said that "we are here today also to give voice to the 124 women killed in Italy in 2012" at the hands of partners or husbands. She noted that greater participation by women in democratic institutions and collective decision-making is as important as greater participation by women in the labour market, an area in which Italy invariably ranks among the lowest rungs in Europe. The minister said that these issues are "by nature bound up with the protection of their rights and measures to contrast the violence systematically perpetrated against them", as well as through meritocracy, "the lack of which condemns highly-skilled women to the margins of economic and social life". No less important is "the organisation of society making family and professional life compatible, instead of putting them at odds with one another". Working to achieve these ends, she said, requires "determination, commitment and passion". In the medieval city of Perugia, two women killed by a gunman in the Umbria regional government offices on Wednesday were remembered by the region's governor Catiuscia Marini as "able women and innocent victims". Daniela Crispotti, 46, a temporary employee, and Margherita Peccati, 61, who was approaching retirement, were shot dead by small businessman Andrea Zampi, who flung papers onto the women's desks before opening fire with a semi-automatic weapon. He then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. Marini said that "today is a day of pain and remembrance. They were both professional, cordial and helpful women whom we are proud to have known". In closing, at the presidential ceremony, Fornero said: "In my work in the government, I never considered equal opportunities as a lesser task among those I was entrusted with. I have tried, albeit amid difficulties and a tight budget, to strengthen the role of women and place a culture of respect at the core of my objectives".