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Where are the women? Pleas and protests

by Maria Luisa Villa

The latest initiative, on May 2, was a virtual flash mob with thousands of participants who wrote #DateciVoce on their masks or signs, taking photos and publishing them on Facebook pages or Instagram or Twitter. #DateciVoce www.datecivoce.it, is the largest protest recorded in Italy, following the creation of the task force managing the restart, led by Vittorio Colao and composed of 21 experts: 17 men, 4 women. On April 14, a petition for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was created, signed by 107 associations and launched by the 27esima Ora, a blog from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Thousands of associations, institutions, bodies, professionals, scientists, university professors, male and female citizens have joined the petition. In it, among other things, we read: “Four women is not only a failure to recognize the heritage of female skills, but also doesn’t even offer a fair representation of our Italy. We ask now that in the Commissions and task forces that are already set up and those that are to be set up to manage the emergency “phase 2″, there is an enhancement of female talent, and an adequate number of capable women included commensurate with the female representation of this country, which is half the population.”

Women are there; women don’t decide. This is an extreme and simple summary of the role of women during the Covid19 emergency. Consistently and massively present in the “daily war” at all levels, from women researchers to workers in every sector, to the tiring double or triple role in the family, women literally disappear in government task forces and in every decision-making cell, mostly – if not entirely – occupied by men, be they ministers or experts.

Protests, pleas, considerations, open letters: the voice of women has risen in many parts of the world and Europe. Called to war but excluded from the grand strategies, today women know that what is at stake is to conquer a place in reconstruction.

Considerations start with excellent data. In an article published on April 13, Forbes magazine praises women’s leadership: “What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders”. Large and small nations – Germany, Taiwan, Denmark, Finland, Norway, New Zealand – are to Forbes an example of good results based on 4 virtues of female power: “Truth, Decisiveness, Tech, Love.”

The Italian Society of Economists also manifested its dissent through a letter from President Alberto Zazzaro sent to the minister for Innovation Paola Pisano. The decision to appoint only men among economists, it says, “does not recognize the high skills that women economists have achieved in all fields of research and risks placing the many gender issues that the health and economic crisis are dramatically highlighting in the background.” The Society of Economists “hopes that the identified group of experts can be integrated with women economists qualified in the chosen areas.” But this did not happen.

On April 20, the Protezione Civile [the Italian Civil Protection] published an update on the Scientific and Technical Committee, set up on February 5 to manage the virus emergency, made up of representatives of government agencies and administrations to support the head of the PC: 20 men, no women.

The reactions were immediate. Among others, the petition “Le esperte esistono! [Women experts exist!]” launched on change.org by Diana De Marchi, the Equal Opportunities delegate of Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala, which has collected over 7000 signatures. “To date, 97 people have been appointed as members of the various Task Forces to counter the Covid19 emergency, of which only 17 are women. Although there are many women jurists, economists, and computer scientists, and despite women making up 70% of personnel in the health and social sector, being on the front lines as doctors, researchers, nurses, and social workers, they continue to not be involved.

A response to the crisis that has hit Italy must involve women in the decision-making process. Only women and men together, with a view to parity democracy, will be able to make forward-looking proposals to contribute to the development of our country.”

The response of the head of the PC Angelo Borrelli was not long in coming: there are no women on the Committee because members “are chosen based on their position, as the head of the PC.” Therefore women, not very present in the top positions of bodies and institutions, are not there. A clear representation of the famous glass ceiling, which prevents women from climbing the hierarchical ladder. The causes? Elections and top appointments in companies, bodies, administrations take place within a majority male audience. Men vote for men.

Even in Parliament female voices of different orientations have been rising against the male task force. Among these, that of Mara Carfagna of FI: “Women are half of the country, and you still think of managing the world as if it were a thing for men.” And Laura Boldrini of PD also points the finger at the recent top appointments in state companies: all men. “The disparity does Italy’s reputation, economy, GDP wrong.” And she announces that she has filed a parliamentary question on the subject with other women MPs. In addition to the decision not to vote on any more nominations, “if there won’t be a substantial number of women.”

But the disparity is also an assist to gender-based violence, as the “Se non ora quando – factory” association warns in a letter to the head of the Civil Protection: “The invisibility of women is not only unjust, it is dangerous. It represents a world where women have been erased, as if they were not there. We know how much this germ, if it enters the mind of young men who then find themselves in front of strong and free young women, causes damage.”

A map of power at the time of Covid19, designed by Openpolis (openpolis.it), registered 1400 posts involved in the emergency: from pre-existing institutional ones to those created ad hoc. Women represent 20%. And, precisely, the lowest figure appears in top healthcare roles: only 15% of the general directors of local health departments and hospitals are women. Yet, female healthcare workers (from healthcare providers to researchers) are over 65%.

In short, February 2 seems far away, the day when the Minister of Health Roberto Speranza declared: “It was three women who completed the isolation of the coronavirus. It is nice that they are,” commenting on the results obtained by the Spallanzani Hospital research team, led by biologist Maria Rosaria Capobianchi, with Francesca Colavita and Concetta Castilletti, as well as Fabrizio Carletti and Antonino Di Caro. And the Minister for the Family and equal opportunities Elena Bonetti offered her congratulations: “Women make a vital contribution to science, too. The future asks for their courage, their intelligence, their creativity.”

For this reason, Elena Bonetti has created a group of 12 experts, led by Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s director. Women entrepreneurs, scientists, economists called to build a New Renaissance for Italy. But their excellence does not enter the task forces that matter: those that contribute to decisions about the present and the future.

“An Indian reservation,” Senator Emma Bonino called it on the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, on April 21, in an interview with Antonio Polito. According to her, the absence of women’s voices in the control rooms “is an aspect of the rejection of meritocracy. Power in Italy tends to reproduce by co-optation. The network of old friends who hang out and get to know each other, what the British call the Old boys’ net.”

Little attention to meritocracy equals low representation. Even the academics and researchers of international fame who are part of Top Italian Scientists (Topitalianscientists.org[1] ) condemn this Italian vice in their plea from May 1: “In Italy, women represent 56% of doctors and are almost double the number of men among doctors under 40. And there are numerous Italian women in the top ranks of international biomedical research […]. From now on, we demand gender balance in technical and scientific commissions to be a top priority. “

And what would competences be without values? The female world of culture has mobilized on this issue. In the French newspaper Le Monde, on April 9, a collective launched a major call to Europe’s shared values, intended for European rulers, and addressed to all citizens of the continent. Among the ever increasing 14 thousand signatures, there are those of women artists, directors, writers, such as Elena Ferrante, Cristina Comencini, Dacia Maraini, Julia Kristeva, Annie Ernaux, Margarethe Von Trotta: “Women have always had immense strength in reacting and holding families together, feeding and caring for them. They showed this during the last world war; they are doing so now, in this pandemic, together with men, as well as being engaged en masse in the work currently permitted. But unlike in the post-war period, this time we are here, we are in our society as equal and we want the reconstruction this time to take account of needs and values that are engraved in our history and experiences as women, and that have been neglected for too long.” The letter ends with a powerful request to politics: “We demand that national selfishness should cease and to react together to the needs of the reconstruction.”

Since the beginning of the emergency, women have turned directly to Europe. Noi Donne and Noi Donne Network, on March 31, sent a letter, signed by thousands of people beyond all political affiliations, to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and to Christine Lagarde, head of the European Central Bank: in this critical historical ordeal, the political class is confronted with the task of being able to reinforce the faith in the institutions. Two women being at the top of the European Union is an extraordinary coincidence, the result of a long engagement for the empowerment and freedom of women. We expect that both of you will be able to take free decisions to reformulate and strengthen the idea of a European Union representative of its peoples, caring for equality, including that of women. We trust that you will take your decisions without forgetting that you are first of all women, which is a determinant factor in re-designing economic priorities and consolidate democracy and civil rights.”

A strong appeal that does not seem to be accepted. But precisely for this reason, it remains alive and valid, as well as the requests of women who continue to ask for a voice, to offer talent and passion for the drawing of a fairer and more equal future.

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