Welcome to the new world order: where straight, white, baby boomer men are slowly becoming less and less of the overwhelming majority when it comes to positions of political power and leadership globally. Here in the US it is an exciting as well as tumultuous time as we wait to see if the country will elect Hillary Clinton as the first female president, but in the meantime, there are numerous female heads of state who have been democratically elected around the world.
Nepal, Myanmar, Croatia, Liberia, Bangladesh and Taiwan are just a few of the nations who can now say “Madam President” when referring to their leader. But it’s not just the highest levels of political office that are seeing great shift in the balance of power. At local mayoral levels we are seeing a more diverse representation of the population they serve.
In March 2014 Paris elected its first female mayor Anne Hidalgo, and the race itself was between two women, another first. More recently, London elected Sadiq Khan as their new Mayor in a landslide victory, making him the most powerful Muslim politician in all of Europe. And just this week, Italy gets to celebrate a couple of major victories of its own, most notably electing 37 year old Virginia Raggi as the new mayor of Rome.
She was representing the anti-establishment Five Star Movement party (M5S), and becomes the iconic city’s first female mayor. Virginia captured 67% of the vote, which was a major blow to her opponent Roberto Giachetti from the Democratic Party (PD), who was backed by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, also of the PD.
Her victory isn’t just said to be a win for women, but for a new generation of politically-minded people who are sick of the corrupt establishment parties that still hold considerable power throughout Italy. The Guardian calls it a signal of a “new era”, reflecting the amount of discontent toward Prime Minister Renzi’s party.
In her victory speech, Virginia said the result was beyond her expectation, taking her from a relatively unknown lawyer to arguably one of the nation’s most well-known political leaders.
“It really is a historic result, and we must work every day for the next five years, because it will be tough. We know how Rome is, but the tougher it is, the greater it will be. We will succeed in doing what we have planned to do,” she said.
But it wasn’t just Virginia’s win in Rome which unnerved the establishment. In the city of Turin, another female won the Mayoral position. Chiara Appendino, 31, is also a member of Five Star Movement, and clinched 55% of the votes against her PD rival. Look out boys, here come the women!
“It has been a long journey and finally our time has arrived. We have the possibility to build a new urban community, but above all we have a duty to heal a city which has been deeply injured,” she said in a speech after her win.
The Five Star Movement are a party to watch in Italy, especially since they only formed 7 years ago by comedian Beppe Grillo. He founded the party after tapping into the major economical discontent brought about after the crash of 2008. Initially only thought of as a “protest” party, the movement has gathered steam to become a force to be reckoned with, and with these young, female face leaders now in place in Rome and Turin, they have a major task on their hands to show the party can deliver.
This is the first time they have won power in a couple of major cities, after winning a handful of medium-sized towns in the past.
“Now it’s our turn. And it’s only the beginning,” Beppe wrote on his blog about the M5s’ wins in Rome and Turin.
Virginia will inherit a city that has over $15 billion in debt, with crumbling infrastructure and a housing crisis. Rome hasn’t had a mayor for 8 months, adding to the disarray already felt by its citizens, after former mayor and PD member Ignazio Marino quit due to a financial scandal.
“Everyone must do something small, all together, this is the change that we want. Otherwise, if everyone works only for themselves, there’s no future. Or better, the future will be like the past,” she said.
Her main campaign promise was to battle the corruption of what is known as the “mafia capitale” scandal, where city hall officials were caught stealing millions from the state which has led to a proliferation of some of the city’s public services.
And of course there is the typical misogyny the women will have to face, given that female leadership is still a relatively new phenomenon. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reportedly refused to support the leading right-wing candidate, claiming her pregnancy made her unfit for public office.
But with the new era of leadership also comes the voicing of disdain toward these outdated types of comments. The president of the lower house of parliament, Laura Boldrini, who has suffered misogynistic insults and threats of rape during her political career, celebrated the victories of both Virginia and Ciara.
“Rome and Turin will be administered by two young women. Congratulations and good luck with your work to mayors Virginia Raggi and Chiara Appendino,” she wrote on Twitter.
Italian women may face opposition, but they are no stranger to hard work and proving the naysayers wrong. Many people are familiar with Licia Ronzulli, the Italian Member of the European Parliament who has been bringing her young daughter with her into parliamentary sessions since 2010. She has sparked many discussions around the role of mothers in the workforce, and has added this issue to her own work.
When we see women being elected to positions of power, and political leadership around the world becoming more diverse than ever before, it gives us hope for real change in the future. We are eager to see what Virginia Raggi and Chiara Appendino will do in their new positions.