Italy’s first female minister of defense says she battled allies and opponents alike for 25 years as sexism defined her career as a politician.
“I have no problem with conflict,” Roberta Pinotti said yesterday in an interview in her office at the Italian Defense Ministry in Rome. “My fist was on the table every day.”
Pinotti, 53, is one of the most high-profile symbols of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s efforts to turn Italy’s macho image on its head. Her appointment to the helm of a hefty ministry tells the tale of a nation starting to confront its systematic exclusion of women from decision making.
Generals, ambassadors and even Eni SpA’s top executives now report to women as gender parity comes into focus. Pinotti and Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini are two of the eight female ministers in Renzi’s 17-seat cabinet, and the premier picked women to chair Rome-based Eni and power producer Enel SpA, both of which are controlled by the state.
Although Renzi, 39, is headed in the right direction, there is some ways to go for the country that grabbed world headlines for the ```bunga-bunga'' parties of Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his conviction for sex with a minor.
Women remain largely at a disadvantage in the job market in Italy, with day-care participation well below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average and women spending four times as much time at housework as men.
“The issue of gender parity was confronted late in Italy,” Vincenzo Smaldore, editorial director of Openpolis, a political research firm, said in an interview. “When looking at the key positions, you see that the women are left out.”
Renzi was propelled to power this year after economic stagnation and corruption scandals discredited Italy’s gerontocracy. Just 21 percent of political posts in national and local government were held by women, according to a March Openpolis study commissioned by la Repubblica newspaper.
Renzi tapped 33-year-old Maria Elena Boschi, a lawyer from his home region of Tuscany, as constitutional affairs minister and picked Maria Anna Madia, eight-months pregnant when sworn in, as head of the public administration. Renzi himself lacks the seasoning once considered a prerequisite for responsibility.
“There was already an acknowledgment of the need to shake things up,” Kareen Jabre, program manager at the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva, said in an interview. “But as you see in other countries, if you don’t have a political will and a leader willing to take the initiative you can end up waiting quite some time for results.”
Pinotti is among women to benefit from Renzi’s political will to fix Italy’s skewed gender equation.
A married mother of two daughters, Pinotti rose through the ranks, starting at age 29 in a borough election in her native Genoa for the now-defunct Communist Party.
She gained experience in military affairs after her election to parliament in 2001 and served as chairman of the lower house defense commission 2006-2008.
As defense minister, Pinotti is carrying out reductions to military staff planned before her tenure, and she’s using her position to stump for jobs in the private sector. She met with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week and urged him to select a factory in Northern Italy as his European pit stop for F-35 fighters in need of a tune up. She’s also in talks with Finmeccanica SpA Chief Executive Officer Mauro Moretti about boosting Italy’s aerospace industry.
On June 6, la Repubblica reported that Pinotti may be a candidate for president if 89-year-old Giorgio Napolitano steps down, as expected, before his term ends in 2020. She said in the interview that it’s a post she has never considered. For now, she’s just content being in Renzi’s cabinet, she said.
“Renzi as a boss is the same with women and men,” she said. “Truly, it’s the first time in politics that I haven’t perceived a difference between men and women.”