Giorgia Meloni, a far-right politician from Italy, broke a huge glass ceiling when she was elected as the country’s first woman prime minister. Being a woman, and mother has been central to Meloni’s political pitch, as she often talks with pride about how she co-founded her party, Brothers of Italy, and rose to the top of national politics without any special treatment.
However, while many rejoice in the fact that, finally, a woman would run the country, not all can overlook the Brothers of Italy’s ideological baggage. Meloni, who is now poised to become Italy’s first female prime minister after her coalition party won a majority in parliament on Sunday, likewise tried to convince women that she isn’t “a monster,” says Giorgia Serughetti, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Milan-Bicocca. “She promised not to touch women’s rights.”
But Serughetti sees the win as a setback for many women in the country who fear Meloni’s hard-right agenda, her talk about preventing abortions, opposing quotas and other measures that will affect women’s rights.
Giorgia Meloni Win: What Does It Mean For Women?
Meloni once ran for mayor seven months pregnant because she said powerful men had told her she couldn’t. Her most famous speech includes the refrain “I am a woman. I am a mother.”
However, for many Italian women, finding a suitable work-life balance becomes nearly impossible once children enter the equation.
Unlike their neighbouring European countries, women in Italy have struggled to cultivate careers in the country’s traditionally patriarchal society. Four out of 10 Italian women don’t work. Unemployment rates are higher even for young women. Female chief executive officers lead only a tiny percentage of companies listed on Milan’s stock exchange.
Affordable, all-day child care is nonexistent in many areas of Italy, and it was women who paid the highest price during the pandemic, staying home during lockdown when schools were shut. Italian women disproportionately shouldered the pandemic’s economic setback and are yet to regain their financial footing in its aftermath.
Moreover, when it comes to abortion rights, although first-trimester abortions have been legal in Italy since 1978, the incoming prime minister is expected to make access to pregnancy termination more difficult. However, during her campaign trail, Meloni said that she would “not touch” the abortion law, adding that her party “just wants [people] to know there are other options”.
According to Emma Bonino, an abortion rights activist from the 1970s, Meloni is unlikely to criminalise abortion but she could “push for the law to be ignored” instead. Critics fear that approach would allow anti-abortion organisations to play a more prominent role in family-planning clinics and encourage doctors to avoid the procedure. Only about 33 percent of doctors perform legal abortions in Italy, and the statistics are as low as 10 percent in some regions.
Other people who worried about their rights being rolled back after Meloni’s win are the country’s LGBTQ+ and migrant communities.
Meloni has previously infamously railed against LGBTQ+ rights and mass migration. In a speech in June, Meloni said, “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby! Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology! Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death! No to Islamist violence, yes to secure borders, no to mass migration… no to big international finance… no to the bureaucrats of Brussels!”
Although she claimed “there is no homophobia in Italy” in 2020, on another occasion slammed the decision to feature a gay couple in the popular Disney animated film, Frozen II, insisting, “Take your hands off of children” on a social media post in 2018. Meloni’s aide also stood by a call to censor an episode of the popular children’s cartoon Peppa Pig which featured a polar bear with two mothers, saying gay parents cannot be presented to minors “as an absolutely natural fact”.
Do Italians share Meloni’s stand on LGBTQ+ rights and representation? Hardly. In June, an Ipsos poll showed that 63 percent of Italians backed marriage rights for gay people, up 15 points from 2013, and 59 percent were in favour of gay adoptions, an increase of 17 points from nine years ago.
Another issue Meloni has raised in her political career constantly is that of migration. She had no qualms, despite a public outcry, about tweeting the video of a rape allegedly perpetrated by an asylum seeker.
Nevertheless, with 26 percent of the electoral votes, Meloni certainly has admirers.
Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs, said the rise of Brothers of Italy’s popularity in 2022 was one of the reasons for her win. “I would say the main reason why a big chunk of that — let’s say 25-30% — voted for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,” she said.
Bidding to become Italy’s first ever woman prime minister Meloni has asserted her female identity, but political science Prof Gianluca Passarelli believes, Meloni is projecting herself as a “macho”, the political way, “The dominance of the Italian family is the ‘mamma’. She’s the macho figure who controls the kitchen. Meloni uses that smartly because it goes directly to the core of our system.”
Back home on the campaign trail, Meloni projected a much more moderate tone and appealed for unity in her victory speech.
“Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray it, as we never have.” Only time will tell what Meloni’s governance has in store for Italians, especially the women in her country.