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Italian politics and gender equality: an impossible combination?

In the new Italian political landscape, the presence of ministries headed by women remains very small. It’s not a coincidence, if we examine the structure of our society.

By Francesca Parravicini

It is said that politics is a reflection of the people, of society, of the customs of a country.

Certainly the Italian situation in 2021 is quite surreal, nothing new for our politics, but perhaps, after all that has happened to us, a little tranquility would be welcome. But this year started with a crisis that led to the creation of a new government, headed by Mario Draghi, economist, former president of the European Central Bank and new President of the Council of Ministers.

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Un post condiviso da Palazzo Chigi (@palazzo_chigi)

Before the announcement of the list of new ministers, the possibility of having a greater female presence was quite discussed, it seemed a certainty. Now we know that this is not the case: out of twenty-four ministers only eight are women, only three with wallets (i.e. with spending power, budget, offices, in short, with more power): Marta Cartabia to Justice, Luciana Lamorgese to Internal Affairs. Cristina Messa to University and Research, all three techniques. Then we have Elena Bonetti from Italia Viva to Equal Opportunities and Family, Fabiana Dadone from the 5 Star Movement to Youth Policies, Maria Stella Gelmini from Forza Italia to General Affairs and Autonomies, Mara Carfagna always from Forza Italia to Sud and Territorial Occupation, Erika Stefani from Lega to Disability.

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We can make two observations: the fact that the mainstream media hailed this choice as a victory for women, when in fact they constitute only one third of the total (and this shows how low the bar is) and the fact that only three of them occupy ministries that are considered of a "certain weight" while most are placed in more social offices, traditionally considered "for women" (it is not a way to belittle anyone obviously, just a pure and simple observation). If we really have to talk about politics, none of these women belongs to a left party, where the greatest wave of progressivism has always been concentrated, in particular on issues of feminism and women's rights.

Obviously we do wish the best to the ministers and hope they can do the best possible job in this situation of crisis. Yet a certain sense of bitterness remains.

As we said at the beginning, politics is often a mirror of one's country. And what kind of country is this? A country where sexism is still deeply rooted, where being a woman still means having to submit to a series of harmful stereotypes that limit our expression and our abilities, being subjected to violence caused by gender inequality, being considered less capable and valid in the workplace.

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The crises bring to light and uncover already existing wounds: as Claudia Manzi, professor of Social Psychology at Università Cattolica and coordinator of the Howcare project points out, women have reacted better to the first phase of pandemic, probably due to a greater propensity to more positive management of traumatic events, but subsequently suffered the painful repercussions, having to bear the weight of family and domestic chores and finding themselves suffering primarily the crisis in the labor market, where they are often valued less essential, therefore less protected and more easily fired. According to Istat data of December 2020, 99,000 out of 101,000 new unemployed citizens were women. This is absolutely not a coincidence.

We need a radical change, a change that passes from words to deeds, a gender mainstreaming, as explained by Antonella Vetri, president of DiRe - Women in the network against violence: We acknowledge that once again no step has been taken to face with strenght the dramatic gender gap in Italy, which has worsened due to the economic crisis generated by the pandemic and which we know is at the root of male violence against women, that shows no sign of diminishing. The difference with other European countries that have appointed women to lead their governments is strikingly obvious: Sanna Marin in Finland, Brigitte Bierlein in Austria, Mette Frederiksen in Denmark, Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Iceland, Erna Solberg in Norway, not to mention Angela Merkel in Germany”.

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During his speech to the Senate with which he asked for a vote of confidence, Draghi mentioned the question: “the mobilization of all the energies of the country in its relaunch cannot be separated from the involvement of women. Italy has one of the worst wage gaps between genders in Europe, as well as a chronic shortage of women in senior management positions. We intend to work in this sense, aiming at a rebalancing of the wage gap and a welfare system that allows women to devote the same energy to their career as their male colleagues, overcoming the choice between family or work. A good program without a doubt, that we really hope will come true.

So women are there, they are capable, they are willing to make their voices heard, but they need to be listened to, to have the possibility of accessing resources and means. To be taken in  consideration. Not something easy, an immense social change is needed, a shift in mentality that should be taken for granted but it’s still not there. Until we reach, not a milestone, but a point of improvement, we will continue to talk about it and make ourselves heard.