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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Silvia Costa

Political Development

What made you decide to go into politics?
Elements of education and personality. I don't like to delegate; I rather like to be in charge and in the limelight.

Was there a political tradition in your family?
More than political I would say a human factor was involved. My education has had two aspects: one maternal and the other paternal. My father was always into the debate on ideas; he communicated to me the fancy for taking a standpoint. My mother, instead, transmitted me the importance of values like solidarity, the commitment for the others, some more "operative" elements. Then there are the elements I would call educational and of personality. The third element was the historical contingent; I went to the university during the ´68 period…

So when did your interest begin?
It begins at the university; with my first class that was changed into a debate occasion where I perceived a strong need to witness the reform conditions. Ever since then this group was created. Though heterogeneous, we were close to the Christian Democrats. We had at our disposal a page of the "La discussione" weekly magazine where we could freely express our opinions. The Christian Democrat women of the time, among them Mrs Anselmi, Mrs Martini, Mrs Falcucci, noticed us and proposed me to be the person in charge, at national level, of the young Christian Democrat women. This occurred in 1975 when I was not even registered to the party. At the time we did stand out as a change generation, in terms of models of women engaged in politics, of needs, of personal stories of capability in dealing with the boys on equal terms. Briefly, we offered a different approach from the previous generation. Until 1976 I took care of political training, organising training courses for Italy.

How did your political pathway develop?
I attended a training course within the women's network of the Christian Democrats, which became famous because of the presence of Elda Pucci. She was a great person, Mayor of Palermo in the new period, before Orlando, and a very pure and fantastic woman.
In 1976, Zaccagnini, a breath of renovation, arrived to the party. On that occasion I was asked to be a candidate for Rome's township elections. I remember I thought I couldn't do it. At the time, I was studying to be a professional journalist. I made my experience during those years, and this, I would say, is my second phase. The other was the young phase. Then came the phase from ´76 to ´85 when I became member of Parliament. To my surprise I was given many votes, possibly because I corresponded to new needs: I was young, a woman, someone new compared to the usual names of politics and I was also supported by esteemed persons within the party, Mr Zaccagnini, Mrs Falcucci, Mrs Anselmi.

Who was your mentor, your guide?
I think people like me would have never entered the party (never had roles, or be acknowledged) without the support of women. Women were for me a reason of personal growth and elaboration. I lived what we, women, know in politics to be twofold militancy. I was interested in information, culture and the media issue as the one of youngsters, but I also felt the duty of interpreting the needs of women. I always had a sort of double job, this was typical of my generation, and it's the wavering of women in politics.
Afterwards came a very difficult phase, when I was town councillor. It was formative. I would go to assemblies in the factories, to the remotest outskirts of the town. I went through the times of occupations, and later on, of terrorism. We have removed it, but we were threatened by terrorists (Brigate Rosse). In 1983 I was proposed as candidate to the Lower House. There were suspicions of electoral fraud, which I denounced; but I was the first among the non-elected. However, after two years I was member of the Parliament, from 85 to 94. I was not re-elected after 94. I have had two roles within my party: I was the first woman in charge of a national department.

It seems as if these offices just happened to you by chance…
That is actually true. I think each has his style. I honestly tell you that I have the merit of loving the power of being able to do things and when I have a task I try to make it visible. I am very creative and go beyond traditional patterns. I think this makes me a person with representativeness, with personal opinions.

What party do you belong to now?
The PPI, Partito Popolare Italiano (Italian people's party).

What do you think of the diminished presence of women in politics? And what about your profession?
I have a university degree in Modern Literature and almost a second one in Pedagogy. Then I worked as journalist collaborating with TV networks (RAI) and with weekly magazines. I did my probation period with the Christian democrats' Newspaper "Il Popolo" … I would work and attend the Township Council. After that I was consultant for a while and had professional collaborations with different subjects. I still collaborate with few newspapers.

It appears that in the past you were more able to combine professional activities with the political ones.
I was able when I was town councillor, not anymore now. I now think of the Equal Opportunities National Commission in a broader sense. For example, looking at its recent years' budget, it is clear how many changes it underwent, also thanks to mainstreaming. We have carried out humanitarian initiatives in Kosovo, with the Missione Arcobaleno (Italian governmental mission in support of local population), Mediterranean women missions, and there was in general a considerable growth in the international activities. It is now a full-time job, but is not paid as such. In fact I only am a consultant.

Did you put this new political slant to the Commission?
It became a necessity with time as a consequence of Peking's decisions addressed to governments and commissions.

Do you think the equal opportunities strategies did not produce the results e xpected, in terms of female participation in decision-making processes?
Were you ever discriminated in your political career?
What keeps women from going into politics?

Indirect discriminations are more widespread than direct ones. But there is another form of discrimination: when a woman bows out and is not elected anymore. If it happens to a man, if it happens that he is not minister anymore, the party takes it upon itself to find him another office. For a woman it is different, you just don't exist anymore!
Another problem for us is to attain executive positions within executive committees … This is the other battle to fight for because we can reach authoritative roles for women also through those cultural models.

Couldn't politics for women be founded on …
It can be founded on the quota system. On my opinion it is necessary, but not sufficient.

What is your opinion on the Italian equal opportunities policy?
The equal opportunities policy was able to keep the lights on even in slack periods. It also was an occasion of cultural growth for men. They are more involved now that the issue has become an institutional matter and is not confined to the context of opinions or of women movements. This was very important.
The constant monitoring we are carrying out was also important for increasing female competencies in these things. There is now a greater acknowledgement of the roles of the Councillors' Offices, and the best practises, and the initiatives of these bodies.
Maybe we are not able enough to communicate these issues to men in ordinary language. The relationships between men and women within the organisation don't work. Our next goal for 2000 is the communication with men. But we also have to increase information on what women do, know and say. Again a communication problem to solve in order to disseminate the idea of women's leadership qualities. This has scarce visibility and makes those women in decision-making positions feel lonely. My last suggestion to women, and to the newcomers is not to forget the great effort it has cost us, because this is a repression that doesn't help.

But mostly to involve other women...
Yes, exactly in this sense. Not to be content to get there all alone, alone we lose.

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