In the wake of March’s International Women’s Day, women all over the world feel empowered, feel strong and feel like their voice has been heard. March 8 was a global day of celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Two women within the political scope of Italy definitely have reason to celebrate their achievements. Virginia Raggi and Chiara Appendino are the sitting mayors of Rome and Turin, respectively. Both are the first women to be elected as Mayor in their respective cities. And both are making headlines with their administrations. Raggi and Appendino are both strong forces within Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The Eurosceptic and populist party founded by comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo, was established in 2009 as a protest party. Since then, M5S is making major waves in Italy’s political environment.
Virginia Raggi, the 37-year-old lawyer from the M5S won a landslide victory in Rome’s mayoral election last June. In fact, 19 of the 20 M5S candidates across the country were elected into office, a huge win for the political group. Named the Eternal City’s first female (and youngest) mayor in its almost 2,800-year history, Raggi has been described as “precise, determined and a stickler for detail.” Acknowledging the gender significance of her victory, Raggi posted on a blog, “The first thing I would say…is that finally Rome will have a female mayor…” She went on to add that at a time “in which equal opportunities are still a pipe dream,” it is “the first sign of the profound change that we are bringing to this country.” Raggi’s platform of cleaning up the city’s corruption catapulted her to the mayor’s office. Although Raggi’s victory was a big win for M5S, putting it in a strong position for the next parliamentary election, Raggi has been accused of abuse of power and one of her top aides was arrested in December on suspicion of corruption. Both significant blows to the M5S party. Raggi is fighting the claims and has been quoted saying “I have complete faith in the judiciary as always.”
About 430 miles northwest of Rome, another M5S member was elected Mayor of Turin. Chiara Appendino, a 32-year-old politician is the 20th mayor of the city. Soon after she was elected, Appendino pledged to turn Turin into Italy’s first vegetarian city by making the promotion of vegan and vegetarian diets a “priority” in her administration. Supported by the M5S and her 62-page manifesto, Appendino said the endorsement of meat-free and even dairy-free living was fundamental to the protection of the environment, health and the well-being of animals. The mayor’s pledge causes much concern amongst the Piedmont region’s meat producers as meat dishes have been central to the food tradition of northern Italy for centuries. The move is unprecedented in Italian municipal government, but is in keeping with the views of the M5S.
Although just five percent of mayors worldwide are women, signs are that a new generation of women leaders are emerging. The UCLG, the Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments called 2016 “a tipping point for women mayors and gender equality in cities.”