Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two women

We’ve heard so much about Italian women being bimbos prepared to do anything to get a part in “Big Brother” or a job in politics that you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s the only truth. Unfortunately it is indeed true that a large number of Italian women think that sex is the best way to success, and not only the younger ones.
But it is far from being the only truth. Today, the left wing paper L’Unità (one of the two national dailies edited by a woman) organised a demonstration of women in Milan “to bring back some dignity to Italy”. On the other side of the political barrier, the right wing (ex-Alleanza Nazionale) paper, Il Secolo d’Italia, also edited by a woman has made the same appeal “to give dignity back to women” and to organise a demonstration on 13 February (to coincide with Berlusconi’s anti-judiciary demo).
As if to symbolise the other side of Italian women, in a remarkable coincidence, for the first time, the heads of the biggest employers’ association, the Confindustria and the biggest trade union, the General Confederation of Italian Workers (CGIL) are both women.
The first is Emma Marcegaglia, 45, from Mantua in Lombardy. Her father started a successful steel processing company in which both she and her brother became senior management. She went to the Bocconi in Milan and then took an MBA at NYU. In March 2008, she was elected President of Confindustria. She had been vice president under the two previous presidents resigning over political differences with one and completing her mandate with the second. Since taking up the high profile position she has shown that she is clearly an able woman despite being part of a family firm.
The Financial Times ranks her 29th in their list of fifty most powerful women in the world. Here in Italy, with an increasingly directionless government of the economy, the voice of employers becomes ever more important. Marcegaglia recently criticised the government for not having done anything for the economy in the last six months and gave an implicit nod to economics minister Giulio Tremonti taking over from Berlusconi.
The other woman at the top is Susanna Camusso, 55, who took over the leadership of the CGIL in November. Once upon a time she would have been Marcegaglia’s direct antagonist but given today’s climate, their interests are surprisingly parallel. She explicitly endorsed Marcegaglia’s remarks on the government’s lack of action. Camusso is also a Lombard, from Milan and almost as a mirror image of Marcegaglia, spent most of her career in the metalworkers section of the union.
The CGIL has been the strongest opponent of Fiat’s reorganisation plans and in particular, the metalworkers at the Termini Imerese plant are furious because they will stop producing cars at the end of this year and in the rest of the country because of the new contract with the other unions. Camusso is going to have to play the delicate negotiating act between her own members and the sister unions and the less delicate negotiation with Fiat CEO Marchionne.
This week she also led a demonstration which presented a draft bill to regulate one of the plagues of the Italian workplace, the unofficial work gangs or caporalato.
Given the governments lethargy, it is employers like Marchionne and the Confindustria or the unions who are actually addressing today’s issues and two of prime actors are women. So women’s prospects should be good in Italy, shouldn’t they? Well, up to a point…
Despite these two very visible success stories for gender equality, the reality is far more depressing and closer to the bimbo stereotypes.
In politics, parliamentarians are in practice appointed by the parties so the Berlusconi factor is very visible; the Chamber of Deputies has 133 women members or 21.1% and it is striking that they are heavily weighted on the younger side. Between age 24 and 29, there are four women and no men; 30-39 41.8% women: 40-49 25.7% women: 50+ 15.6%. The optimistic take on the numbers is that there is change taking place and that in ten or twenty year there will be Norwegian near parity. The cynical view is that physical appearance is more important than experience. In the European Parliament and the regional assemblies, this even more apparent.
Not surprisingly, the Cabinet shows the B-factor most heavily. Of the 24 members of the Cabinet, five are women (3 without portfolio, 2 with) three had very close personal connections with B before going into politics. It is striking that all five are young (between 33 and 43) and by any standards go from the good looking to the very goodlooking while the 19 men are mostly older and go from the ordinary to the the distinctly ugly. Just last week, the most notorious of Berlusconi’s women ministers, the former showgirl and topless model, Mara Carfagna, now minister for equal opportunities came to an agreement with the self-governing board for publicity. The ministry will be able to ask for the withdrawal of advertisements that “degrade the image of women or which are violent or sexist”. There is more than a touch of irony in the announcement given what Carfagna did before becoming a deputy and what her boss apparently still does with a wide variety of lovelies.
In the civil service and wider public service, there has been an increase in the number of women employed going from an overall 48.7% in 1994 to 54.4% in 2006, apparent progress for gender equality. Most of that increase has been in the health service: 55.2% to 62.0% and the regional and city administrations: 42.2% to 50.4% (both around a fifth of the total each), schools (over 30% of the total) 72.2% to 76.6%. But at a senior level, the increase has been slight; 28.8% diplomats and prefects in 1994 to 35.4% in 2006, universities 38.8% to 43.8%. The figures mask a very solid glass ceiling.
In the general labour market, according to the OECD, less than half of Italian women work (46.4% compared to almost 80% of Norwegians). Only Turkey in Europe is worse at 24%, and the Italian figure is declining – in 2008 47.2% worked. The 2007 World Economic Forum gender gap index put Italy in 84th place down from 77th in 2006.

So all in all, despite Marcegaglia and Camusso, the rest of Italy is pretty bleak for women.

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