Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
I got involved in institutional politics about 6 months ago when I became Co-ordinator for the Verdi (pro-environment party). I was asked to give a hand; it was not my choice.
My previous political experiences are few because I have been volunteering for 30 years within the women's and ecologist movements. I only decided to become a candidate in 1987 when the Verdi entered the official politics for the first time, and in 1989 for the European elections.
My experience is more that of a citizen involved in politics within the volunteering activity.
There was no political tradition in my family. We were not well off. My grandparents were peasants. My mother worked in a post-office and my father was the first of fourteen children of a family of peasants from Veneto (Italian North-eastern region). My political vocation is partly due to my experience in the USA where I went for an American Field Service scholarship in 1964-65, years when the ecologist movement was starting to have its success. However, it is also due to my experience in the women's movement in the 1968s. This latter one really determined my political vocation.
Where there disruptions in your political career path and why?
There never were disruptions in my political pathway. I always was an activist both in the women's and ecologist movements. I participated in the 1972 UN's first Conference on the environment in Stockholm. The most important period was 1970-72, with the admission in the international ecologist movement that Stockholm signed.
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The name of my party is Federazione dei Verdi, I've been a member since 1987. In the Verdi, regulations concerning Equal Opportunities (50%) are included in the statute. But we will have to study mechanisms to make opportunity a concrete one. During our last assembly's elections women were the last because in terms of pure representation they have less votes. For this reason I will mention the executive committee which has 3 women out of 5 members. The rule in favour of equality has been adopted within the party only very recently. It already existed, but beyond principles, there have to be mechanisms to enforce these principles. When the Verdi women were first elected in Parliament, in 1987, they were numerous and had a woman as head of their group. Later on the number of women diminished and now we have only 2 women members out of 29. In the party's next statute (it is due to be drawn up within the year 2000) we will try to enforce these statutory mechanisms, and make the quota for women a reality.
Which function/offices did you hold in your party at the beginning? How long after your joining the party was that? How did you get into running for an office?
In my life I have always pursued my aims. Afterwards came roles and offices, but never had I looked for them. For example, I was President of WWF from 1992 to 1998, and President of International WWF from 1997 to 1999. I don't go after offices, but after objectives. I don't take up a career.
Did you have mentors within your party?
Mine is a particular story, since I have always been working in the women's movement so I never acted by myself. Then, when in the latest elections the Verdi didn't do well, I was already a leading person within the environmental movement, I was asked to give a hand and I said yes. When I became co-ordinator last July I had no idea I could be elected with 99.9% of votes.
I was lucky I had important mentors: one of them was Pietro Dhorne, Director of the Acquario of Naples. He took me to Stockholm and let me meet the best of the environmental movement worldwide. They were my mentors. Here in Italy I met Antonio Cederna, a great environment supporter, a great journalist, and my greatest inspiration.
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I attended a school to become a teacher first. Then I won a scholarship. Afterwards my mother registered me at La Bocconi University of Milan, majoring in foreign languages and literatures, later on I went to the US.
Are you linking both your professional and your political career?
There are no disruptions between my profession and politics. My life is my profession and my profession is my life. As I said, I don't take up a career, I didn't' t work to build a career, rather my life, and I often paid a high price for my career. I worked as a journalist in the 70s not having any influence. I worked 7 years under-the-counter. I would study during the morning and do a little work for Ansa. As I had a good knowledge of three foreign languages, Ansa hired me and I moved abroad for two years. When in 84, the issues of environmental support were becoming widespread in journalism as well, and reviews were coming up in this field, I decided to engage in this sense trying to combine my interests and my profession. But later on I didn't want to continue because in journalism you are asked to distort and manipulate reality and to accept this.
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My political aim is that of affirming a vision of the world in which a decent welfare can be attained for the planet's inhabitants without destroying the natural resources, the real wealth of nations and the heart of economy itself. A sort of marriage between ecology and economy. This marriage is twofold: the first aspect is social and environmental, as it is obviously unbearable that 15% of rich exploit 80% of the Earth's resources at the expenses of the world population.
Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy making?
As to discriminations, when I first started my journalistic career, all newspapers asked if I wanted to take care of the cooking, fashion or children sections and I would reply in terms of alternative energy, environment causing astonishment and making them think I was crazy. Many times when I was working for Ansa in Brussels and somebody would enter the room they would always take me for the secretary and ask for my boss. The first time at the UN Conference in Stockholm, I was the only woman environmentalist and during the party held by the Italian embassy, an Italian politician whose name I don't remember asked me what a beautiful girl was doing in a place like that. But at Rio's Conference they're so many women. An outstanding improvement occurred in 30 years: we became very numerous. The beginnings were hard because I wanted to do something typically masculine in a world populated mostly by men. I find the same situation now in Italy. I am the first woman head of a political party among men with their masculine and tribal codes that I am studying, but often at the risk of being marginalized. Obstacles come up everyday.
There is difference in the way men and women do politics, the former make it an affirmation of their identity and hang on to their role of power as if to a fundamental pillar of their identity. For me it is a service I render to society and to myself, it is not a role. My identity is not concerned with my role.
Do equal opportunity strategies - in your opinion - have an impact in your country to promote women in decision-making?
The policy for equal opportunities is mostly the one of Minister Mrs Balbo, a good policy all-the-way-around. Maybe there could be a better approach in this direction, through a more lay and practical approach compared to the past and considering the advances and conquests we achieved. I think the most important thing is that whereas in feminism the fight was "against", now it is "in favour of ". Women fight in favour of themselves, for the cause, don't anymore perceive man as the altar to be attacked, but have a confident relationship with him. We should not, though, lower on guard, because we can see it; the evidence is clear.
What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
The scarce presence of women in politics is due to the problem of maternity. If I were to give a definition of politics I would say it is too often intended in terms of line-ups, of power rituals and too little life is reflected in it. This goes against our nature. For politics you have to give up living, friends, children, going to the movies. It is too hard on women. I can see it with myself: this is just a phase of my life. If I were to go on like this for the following ten years I would shoot myself. I am in it until I reach my objectives. Life is made up of time, and women, doing always a thousand things, just have too little. It is different for men, they are monothematic. Going into politics means entering a world dominated by masculine time codes and rituals, not taking part to this kind of life is a sign of mental health. This is why there are few women.
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