The prospect of a far-right prime minister divides Italian women

If Italy elects the country’s first female prime minister, will its women be delighted or appalled?

If opinion polls prove to be correct, Giorgia Meloni and the far-right Italian Brotherhood party she co-founded less than a decade ago will triumph in the September 25 election. Meloni could then be invited by the Italian president to try to form a viable coalition government with right-wing allies.

For many women voters, it is a question of gender in relation to the agenda.

Some worry that Meloni, who exalts motherhood, is seeking to erode women’s rights, including access to abortion.

For his supporters, what matters is his conservative “God, Fatherland and Family” platform, not his gender.

Brothers of Italy has its roots in a neo-fascist movement that hailed the legacy of Benito Mussolini, who awarded prizes to women who had many children. The party won around 4% of the vote in the last election, in 2018, but according to some pollsters, it could win almost 25% in this one.

Licia Donati, a young communist activist in the 1960s, fought for the legalization of divorce, which came about in 1970. She also campaigned for Italian courts to recognize that women have the same right to justice as men. husbands in a country where, until 1981, laws sanctioned clemency for men who murdered women in order to preserve “family honour”.

If Meloni becomes Italy’s first female prime minister, it would be ‘a break (with the past) in the sense that she is a woman, but it would be a setback in terms of conservative female culture,’ said Donati, 84. , a Tuscany. native who lives in Rome.

Donati said if she could talk to the politician, she would say, “What battle have you fought for women, what have you done? Nothing.”

Meloni, 45, is the only main party leader not to join Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s pandemic national unity government in 2021. After populist forces, including two of Meloni’s campaign allies, withdrew their support for Draghi in July, the former European Central Bank’s coalition collapsed, prompting a snap election.

Oria Gargano, whose organization BeFree in Rome helps women who have experienced domestic violence, noted with dismay that a Brethren politician from Italy lobbied for cemeteries where aborted fetuses can be buried and to display the names of women who aborted even without their permission.

Recently, Meloni angered women by retweeting a video of a woman being raped on a street — “for the simple fact that an immigrant raped her,” Gargano said.

Meloni derided most of the migrants – mostly men – who sail to Italian shores on smugglers’ boats as profiteers who do not deserve refugee status.

Meloni has generally refrained from casting for women’s votes simply because she is a woman. But she hit back at claims that it would not be a victory for women if she became prime minister.

“I challenge anyone to say that wouldn’t mean breaking the glass ceiling,” Italian news agency ANSA quoted her when she came to the Monza circuit for a Formula 1 race.

“I’m a woman, so to say you’re not a woman if you say the things I say, frankly, makes me laugh.”

According to pollsters, Meloni attracts slightly more male voters than female.

As a young woman, Senator Emma Bonino, leader of the small + Europe party, which is allied in the campaign with Meloni’s rival, Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, pushed to legalize divorce and abortion.

During this election campaign, Meloni was pressed on whether she would abide by Italian law legalizing abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or later if a woman’s health or life was in danger. She insists she will abide by the law, but wants it to be enforced in a way that helps women who decide to give birth.

“She’ll be shrewd – no big debate, just ‘we won’t enforce'” the law, Bonino said.

Several political rivals have cited a shortage of doctors willing to perform abortions in parts of Italy, including the Marche region, ruled by Meloni’s party. Under the 1978 law, staff in Italy’s public health system can declare themselves “conscientious objectors” to avoid carrying out the procedure.

At Meloni’s first campaign rally last month in Ancona, a city in the Marches, about 1,000 cheering supporters far outnumbered the few dozen protesters, mostly women, in a side street.

“You breathe hate and you don’t represent me,” read one protesting woman’s placard.

Meloni, who has a young child with her male partner, denounces what she calls LGBTQ ‘lobbies’, mocks the concept of gender fluidity and supports Italy’s single adoption ban.

“Traditional” families are for her the bedrock of society.

His conservative views put off some women, including Alice Riboli, who at 18 can vote for the first time.

“It would be better to see a woman in politics taking on a role like that (like prime minister), but maybe not her. Maybe someone with a bit more open, more up-to-date ideas,” Riboli said. , from Aosta, in northern Italy.

But other women support Meloni’s program.

Lavinia Mercante, 25, from Rome, said she supported her “as a politician, not as a woman”. Mercante wants to see the political right come to power.

Still others are indifferent to women’s empowerment as a campaign issue – they just want a government that stays in power. Since 2018, Italy has had three different, often contested, ruling coalitions from all political backgrounds.

“I think I don’t care if the right or the left wins,” said Caterina Bazzani, 52, a financial consultant in Agrate Brianza, northern Italy. “I want a government, voted by the Italians, which will last five years and will carry out its program.”

As for Meloni, “some say she should come into office because she’s a woman, but I don’t think that way. It’s enough for me that she’s capable. Male or female, it’s the same for me .”

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Mary I. Bruner