Time Is Up: Italy Needs A Female Prime Minister

Italy deserves a female Prime Minister. Not only because of a clear matter of equality, but most of all because the country keeps presenting incredibly valuable and skilled women.

Female Prime Minister
Photo: Emma Bonino” by European University Institute is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Emma Bonino” by European University Institute is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Italy deserves a female Prime Minister. Not only because of a clear matter of equality, but most of all because the country keeps presenting incredibly valuable and skilled women

By Laura Loguercio

Since its founding, 73 years ago, the Republic of Italy went through 66 governments and 29 Prime Ministers. Leaders guided the country through scandals and crisis, the economic boom, 1968, Mani Pulite, red and black terrorism. During all this time, the political élites bequeathed a sacred yet unspoken rule: Italy needs to be led by a man. For how long will the country have to wait before seeing a woman at the guidance of Palazzo Chigi?

On a global level, female representation in politics has grown during the last 25 years. In 1996 the European Council released a recommendation, urging all Member States to “adopt a comprehensive, integrated strategy designed to promote balanced participation of women and men in the decision-making process and develop or introduce the appropriate measures to achieve this.” Balanced participation can be variously interpreted, but the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) recommends that representation of women in governmental bodies should not fall below 40%. The current Italian executive has 14 male Ministers and 7 women: males are in charge of two-thirds of the ministries, twice the amount of those led by women.

On a global level, the current political landscape presents several examples of flourishing countries led by women leaders. I’m thinking about Angela Merkel, German Chancellor since 2005, Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand and, until recently, Theresa May that administered the United Kingdom in one of the its hardest moments.

Italian women got the right to vote right after the end of World War II. It was June 2nd, 1946, and for the first time ladies queued at the polling stations, eager to participate in a decision that would change the country at its deepest roots: citizen were asked to decide whether they wanted to live in a Republic or in a Monarchy. Republic won.

Flash forward to thirty years later. In 1976, Tina Anselmi is the first woman ever to be appointed Minister, in this case of Labour. Partisan from the earliest age, she was also vice President of the European Feminine Union. Three years after that Nilde Iotti, from the Socialist Party, gets to preside the Chamber of Deputies. She as well was a former partisan, and during the last years of fascism she operated in the “Women Defense Group”. Iotti resigned from her post at the Chamber in 1999, gravely ill, leaving amidst the applause of the whole Parliament. We have to wait until 2018, when Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati succeeds to Pietro Grasso, to finally see a woman hold the second highest office of the constitutional order: president of the Senate. As for today, Italian women’s road to power stops there. The idea of a feminine Prime Minister hangs over the country, like one of those uncomfortable topics nobody really wants to free from Pandora’s box.

During the frenzied consultations that divided Italy this summer — after the former Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini decided to bring down the government — many feminine names from politics, diplomacy and culture started circulating as potential candidates for a new executive. For what concerns the position of Prime Minister, a few ideas sounded particularly appealing.

Elisabetta Belloni, Marta Cartabia and Paola Severino

In September 2019 the Fondazione Marisa Bellisario, an expert network that fights for women equality, proposed its ideal ladies-only government team. According to that scenario the appointed Prime Minister would be Elisabetta Belloni, a long-time diplomat skilled in managing critical situations in Iraq, Egypt and Afghanistan. Although not used to mediatic coverage, in 2016 Belloni was the first woman to become Secretary General for the Foreign Office. Six years before that, she opened up with the press agency 9Colonne, talking about what it feels like to be such a powerful woman in the diplomatic circles: “Women are particularly suitable for roles that require individual responsibilities, because women are naturally more inclined to make decisions even when they come with personal risks” Belloni said, adding that she may had to work harder than her male colleagues to build her career: “I had to prove I was valuable. We live in a society that does not allow women to move up with their careers without having to give up their femininity, their families and needs”. The real prospect of Ms. Belloni becoming Italy’s Prime Minister grew stronger in May 2018 when, after the round of elections of March 4, the two main parties of the brand new government coalition — Five Star Movement and League — couldn’t seem to find an agreement about who should be appointed for the post. After two months of consultations, President Sergio Mattarella considered the possibility of forming a neutral executive led by a knowledgeable and reliable person, and he indicated Belloni as one of the most suitable figures. Eventually, the two parties found a deal and Giuseppe Conte started his premiership on June 1st, 2018. Nonetheless, Belloni’s name kept circulating in the highest political élites and, when the first Conte government fell, she was proposed again to replace him – with as much luck as the previous time.

Another prominent figure taken into account as a possible leader for Palazzo Chigi was Marta Cartabia, vice president of the Constitutional Court since 2014. Her name often shared the stage with the one of Paola Severino, a former Minister of Justice who is now the Dean of Luiss University in Rome. In August 2019, these speculations filled up the first pages of newspapers and, for a few weeks, Italy seemed to be closer than ever to having a female Prime Minister. After a while, anyways, Cartabia silenced the rumors releasing a note to clarify that her priority in that moment was to conclude her job at the Constitutional Court, expiring in September 2020. The idea of a Severino was as well dismissed and the role was assigned, again, to Giuseppe Conte.

Laura Boldrini

Apart from these fallen through scenarios, contemporary Italian politics is full of valuable and hard-working women that occasionally cut through the news as possible Prime Minister candidates.

Laura Boldrini started her career in politics and diplomacy at the United Nations, working first at FAO and then as a spokerson for Southern Europe at Unhcr. In 1999, she received the official Medal from the National Commission for gender equality. In 2013, Boldrini abandoned the world of diplomacy and embraced home politics, running for the Chamber of Deputies. In the same year she was elected President of the Chamber, a role that she held for five years.

Boldrini has always been a strenuous supporter of women’s rights, so much so that during her career at Montecitorio (the seat of Italian parliament) she founded an intergroup of women deputies for gender parity and dedicated a room to all the women in the institutional environment. Because of her strong feminist ideas, Boldrini has also been the target of many criticisms coming from political opponents. In 2016 the leader of the far-right party League, Matteo Salvini, during a talkfest in Cremona said referring to an inflatable doll that was hanging on the stage: “Here we have Boldrini’s doppelganger!” The claim enraged politicians from both sides of the political spectrum but, nonetheless, he never apologized. The cold war between Salvini and Boldrini, made of cutting remarks and pokes, is an evergreen of Italian politics. Actually, the idea of having Laura Boldrini as Prime Minister or, worse, President, makes many right-wing men tremble with fear.

Maria Elena Boschi

Maria Elena Boschi is another prominent figure in left-wing Italian politics. Elected Deputy for the first time in 2013, the following year she is appointed Minister for Constitutional Reforms and Relations with the Parliament, with a special mandate for gender equality. She will maintain the mandate also during her next assignment as Undersecretary of State. Boschi is known to be particularly close to Matteo Renzi, former Prime Minister and leading figure of the Italian center-left. A long-time member of the Democratic Party, in September 2019 Renzi decided to leave the party and founded his own group Italia Viva. Boschi followed him unhesitatingly. During one of the first public events of the new party, Renzi claimed: “Quotas for women? We have those for men. We believe in a strong female leadership, and we are looking forward to having a lady Prime Minister and a lady President of the Constitutional Court.”

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino, 71 years old, is one of the most respected personalities of Italian liberal radicalism. Politician of the first hour, she sat in the European Parliament, in the Italian Chamber of Deputies and, currently, in the Italian Senate. In 1975, during the turbulent fights to legalize abortion, Bonino helped founding the Information Center for sterilization and abortion (CISA) and she reported herself as guilty for practicing illegal abortion. Since the very beginning of her political career Bonino also stayed at the forefront of the international battle against female mutilations, which she defined as a “personal effort”. In 2013, a large movement of opinion campaigned for electing Emma Bonino as President of the Italian Republic, in view of the close end of Napolitano’s mandate. Her candidacy was endorsed by many important political figures, from all sides of the political spectrum. Nevertheless, Napolitano ended up being reconfirmed for an extraordinary second term.

Giorgia Meloni

On the other hand, the leading female figure of the center-right coalition is Giorgia Meloni, who is often seen together with Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi. Aged 42, Meloni can already look back on a long career. She kickstarted her political engagement at 15 years old, joining the youth association of the far-right Social Italian Movement (MSI). At 31, she became the youngest Minister ever during the fourth Berlusconi government but, in 2012, Meloni decided to leave Berlusconi’s party and founded Brothers of Italy, of which she is the current President. Meloni was the only woman to lead a party that run alone for the elections in 2018, obtaining an approval rating of about 4%. Among her battles we find the firm opposition to the so-called “gender culture” and the ban of homosexual unions and adoptions, the direct election of the Head of State, and a determined fight against immigration and the Islamic culture. In an article called “Giorgia Meloni, the friendly face of Italy’s surging far-right”, The Guardian made the case that Meloni could actually become the first Italian female Prime Minister. Many human rights supporters shiver at the thought.

Italy deserves a female Prime Minister. Not only because of a clear matter of equality, but most of all because the country keeps presenting incredibly valuable and skilled women, trained for the role and with all the credentials required to administer Palazzo Chigi. Discarding them because of their sex and all the stereotypes related to it is not acceptable anymore. Time is up.

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