Italian Women Want A New Era


I am a 25-year-old Italian woman and my generation does not know politics without Silvio Berlusconi. Before calling this political turmoil the end of an "era" — as commentators around the world are rushing to do — I would like to see Italy’s youth and women being empowered.

Silvio Berlusconi quit last weekend as the European Union pressured his government over financial measures to revive the country’s economy and avoid defaulting on debts. He did not quit his role as PM either because of a strong opposition within Italy or because his scandals cost him credibility.

When he faced a confidence vote he seized 308 votes out of 630: he lost because of only eight "traitors", as he called them in a handwritten note.

He has led the political debate for 17 years, either in his capacity as PM or as leader of the opposition. He gained popularity because he spoke a language everybody could understand, staying away from the intellectual lingo of bureaucracy and legislation.

He presented himself as a self-made man from a middle-class family and he responded to the middle-class quest for strong leadership and tax cuts. He told us not to worry and to have fun with his TV stations; he led the country as if it was a soccer team, his motto being "Forza Italia": Go Italy.

As the president of AC Milan he should have known that a team can’t score and win the game with old players. Italy’s youth has been left behind by decades of policies — even before the so-called "Berlusconi’s era" — that denied them jobs. As for women, well they have just been forgotten.

29 per cent of Italians aged 15-24 are unemployed. More than 20 per cent of Italians under 30 are not in education, employment or training. Yes, that’s right, they don’t do anything.

For women aged 15 to 64 the situation is even more despairing: according to the Italian Institute of Statistics 48.6 per cent of them are "inactive" and many of them have ceased to look for jobs.

Women are absent in decision-making roles and more often presented on television as sexy bodies with no responsibilities, confined to secondary roles where no particular skill is required — but a toned butt is helpful.

In this scenario, the real risk for young women is to consider their body the only valuable currency to buy power and job opportunities. Many girls who attended Berlusconi’s infamous parties declared they did it to obtain a job in television or in politics, as if there was a short cut from bedroom to parliament, from lingerie to business suit.

Entrepreneur and women’s rights activist, Lorella Zanardo, has been fighting to empower Italian women since 2009, firstly with a documentary, "Il Corpo delle donne" (Women’s body, watch it here), and secondly with a school campaign that teaches high-school students and broader audiences to watch television "with new eyes". On her blog, Zanardo has called on acting PM Mario Monti to include women in his cabinet of economists.

When she released the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report, Saadia Zahidi, the head of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program, stated that smaller gender gaps were directly correlated with increased economic competitiveness: "With the world’s attention on job creation and economic growth, gender equality is the key to unlocking potential and stimulating economies." In this report, Italy ranked 74, Australia 23.

An Italian committee for gender issues and women’s empowerment, Pari o Dispari (literally "Even or Odds"), wrote Monti an open letter urging him to act on gender discrimination.

The committee is calling for "free use" of what it sees as the greatest resource of the country: women. "We are aware that in this country, in order to be included in leadership positions, a woman must be very clever, but also simple-minded, gorgeous but a bit ugly, with experience but young (…)" the committee wrote. "But please Senator, look for capable, competent, honest women sincerely engaged for the best of the country, and surely you will find some."

Yesterday, Senator Monti indeed announced he would engage with young people and women during his leadership. If action follows Monti’s words, then we will see the beginning of a new government fully representative of all its citizens. Until then, Italian women won’t be calling it a new era.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.