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ROME – Giorgia Meloni, a 45-year-old single mother from Rome, is about to make history. If opinion polls prove accurate, she is expected to be named Italy’s first female prime minister after elections later this month.
But what Meloni’s victory would mean for women’s rights and the campaign for equality in Italian politics is less clear.
In recent weeks, a string of female celebrities have lined up against Meloni and his far-right Italy Brothers party. They attacked her anti-abortion stance, her devotion to the “traditional” family and her disregard for minority rights as proof that she will not help female representation or increase women’s rights.
The Levante singer wrote on her Instagram that Meloni’s vision excludes minorities and women who don’t conform to an idealized image of the heterosexual Christian mother. Elodie, another popular singer, highlighted parts of the Brotherhood’s 2018 election proposals to “defend the natural family, fight gender ideology and promote life.” “Honestly, that scares me,” she wrote on social media.
Last week, it was the turn of Italy’s biggest fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni, who took aim at Meloni in an Instagram story, claiming that the Brethren of Italy had made abortion “virtually impossible” in the region of Marches, let the party rule. This, Ferragni told his 27 million followers, is “a policy that risks becoming national if the right wins the election… Now is the time to act and make sure that doesn’t happen.”
For his supporters, a post as Prime Minister Meloni would send the strongest possible signal that there are no limits to the opportunities open to women in Italy.
In a political culture infamous for its machismo, his victory would certainly be remarkable. Women have previously risen to the rank of foreign minister and president of the Senate, but 76 years after the founding of the republic, she would be the first woman to lead the government, after 30 men had served as prime minister before her.
During his career, Meloni has highlighted his status as an outsider. She opened up about how she was pressured out of Rome’s mayoral race while pregnant, and how she faced gender-based threats and abuse online. The fact that she is a working single mother – and was raised by a single mother – may make her more like normal women.
But for her opponents, none of these personal characteristics guarantee that she will offer what Italian women need.
Meloni’s party has voted against proposals in Europe and Italy to protect women from discrimination and violence, due to its opposition to gender ideology. For Senator Valeria Valente of the center-left Democrats, “Meloni plays on the novelty factor [of being a woman] but does not represent or work for women. [Her premiership] is not an opportunity for women.
Valente says Ferragni’s concerns about the risk to abortion rights are “well-founded”. In areas already run by the Meloni Brothers of Italy, national guidelines for making the abortion pill available in a day clinic are not being followed. To justify this policy, the regional politicians of the Marches, Italian children,.
In Italy, only 49% of women work, compared to 73% in Germany. Some of Meloni’s critics say his policies risk widening that gap. Meloni promised to cut taxes for large families to boost Italy’s currently low birth rate of 1.2 births per woman, compared to 1.5 in Germany and 1.8 in France.
While this would potentially be a welcome tax break for some, some fear it could also undermine women’s economic equality in Italy. “She wants to keep women at home,” Valente told POLITICO.
Isabella Rauti, a senator for the Brothers of Italy, said Meloni’s policies would help women balance work and family by incentivizing companies that hire new mothers and adopt family-friendly policies. “His appointment as Prime Minister would be something completely new and would send a message to all Italian women.”
Meloni has been clear that she will not abolish the 1978 law that legalized abortion. However, she would seek to fully implement part of the law that ordered state entities to provide women with alternatives to abortion, to “overcome the causes that could lead the woman to terminate her pregnancy”, Rauti explained.
Some measures that have already been adopted in right-ruled regions include paying women not to have abortions and allowing groups in hospitals and family planning clinics. Pro-choice groups say these measures are designed to confuse women and delay their decision until it is too late to have a legal abortion.
Break down the barriers
Undoubtedly, Meloni has already broken barriers – she was the youngest minister in the history of Italy.
But her rise is not guaranteed to open the door for more women to enter politics. Meloni denounces feminism and does not believe in setting quotas. She argues that only promotion based on merit gives women authority. The conundrum for feminists is whether a Meloni government is a victory because she is a woman, or a defeat because she is a right-winger.
Historically, Italy has a long way to go. The system is “so male-dominated and macho that the small number of positions of power held by women do not become launching pads for others,” said Valeria Manieri, founder of Le Contemporanee, a start-up that fights against gender discrimination. “It is highly likely that her leadership will favor her and only her, without smoothing the way for others.”
Meloni can have it.
For Marina Terragni, a feminist writer, the left has for too long ignored radical feminists on issues such as gender politics and surrogacy. Now they see possible common ground with Meloni. “The left has never wanted to listen to feminist objections on these issues,” Terragni said. “The right is more voluntary.”
Some feminist groups have lobbied for surrogacy, which is already illegal in Italy, to become a crime even if practiced abroad.
“If Meloni promotes this policy – and she has already done so – I cannot say no because she is the one saying it,” Terragni said. “That would be absurd. Obviously we have different endings,” added Terragni, who is pro-choice. But as a single mother, Meloni is “a woman of our time.”
If nothing else, Meloni’s position at the top would raise questions about why in Italy and elsewhere it’s usually the political right – which often backs more reactionary policies – that produces female leaders, like Angela Merkel. in Germany and Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May and potentially Liz Truss in the UK
Whatever their politics, when women succeed in breaking through, they are inevitably capable, Manieri added. “Because to get there, they worked 10 times harder than a man. This certainly applies to Giorgia Meloni.