Women in Action — Conversation with Debora Serracchiani
President of the Democratic Party group in the Italian Chamber of Deputies
Women in Action is delighted to host Debora Serracchiani, a prominent figure in the Italian political scene and an example for all women engaged in politics and social issues. Recently appointed President of the Democratic Party group in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Ms. Serracchiani has a history of being at the forefront in the battle for better work conditions and social rights, including gender equality.
Serracchiani is a lawyer specialised in labor law, and has served as a member of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2013 and as President of the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia from 2013 to 2018. She has been a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies since 2018.
GB: Honourable Ms. Serracchiani, thank you for agreeing to talk with Women in Action, and congratulations on being appointed President of the Deputies’ group of the Italian Democratic Party. What are the main challenges you will be facing in this new role?
DS: A large group such as the Democratic Party in the Chamber is a veritable living organism, brimming with a variety of ideas, stimuli and skills. My colleagues put their trust in me by electing me as their leader and now I must give my all to ensure everyone is properly valued and produces their best work. This is not a matter limited to Parliament: we must do everything possible and then more to truly represent the people, to be the "antennas" of the Democratic Party in our territories, to transfer the sentiment of the citizens into the legislative effort, and also to direct responsibly.
GB: Following the birth of the Draghi government, there was a noticeable lack of female appointments within the Democratic team. What did this experience represent for you and the other women within the Democratic Party?
DS: A turning point. Proof that, after having made a gross mistake, the Democratic Party has the strength and the will to redeem itself and be inspired anew by its origins. It was a painful and traumatic experience, both politically and as a human. But it provided the necessary jolt to urge everybody to begin rowing in the same direction again. There is no other option, make no mistake. The new Secretary Enrico Letta reopened the lines of communication with the Italian people, and asked the entire party to shoulder the weight together: this is the road ahead of us, democratic men and women without distinction.
GB: Looking outside of Italy, the new President of the United States Joe Biden has launched a phase of major reforms, marked by attention to women’s issues - as well as to minorities. What impact, would you say, is the Biden administration having on the rest of the world? Would it be safe to say we are witnessing the rebirth of values such as democracy and inclusion?
DS: It isn’t just Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi. They are visually making history: the first female Vice President and the first Speaker of the House of Representatives, seated behind the President as he addresses the Plenary Assembly. From Secretary of Treasure Janet Yellen to a whole host of women in executive and prominent positions, the US is showing visible signs of change. Time will tell if Biden’s influence will make its way across the ocean to the European Union, where messages are still quite contradictory and at times downright worrying.
GB: According to the Reykjavik Leadership Index, commissioned by Women Political Leaders, less than 50% of the world’s population (men and women) would feel comfortable with a woman at the head of the government. In Italy, 55% of women are in favour of a woman heading the government, while only 37% of men is. Why do you think there is still so much skepticism around women’s leadership capabilities?
DS: It may be so in theory, when people are answering a survey. But I am convinced that when faced with quality practical choices, even Italian men will be less interested in gender and more attentive to other factors. This is what I choose to believe: I think the moment is coming in which being a woman will be a competitive factor in politics. Of course, there are still many prejudices to deal with, remnants of sexism and the most noxious aspects of these attitudes. And the general health of politics must not degenerate, democracy must always be strong, because true gender equality is an outcome of democracy.
GB: What are the most important measures (legislative or otherwise) to aid the emergence of female leadership?
DS: First and foremost, there needs to be a large number of potential female leaders on the playing field. This can only happen if society creates an environment in which a generation of women can grow with the awareness that they can make it. When women decide what they want to do with their lives, they must be able to pursue their goals freely, not facing more obstacles than men do. And that’s where institutions must make things happen, to bring balance into a historical, cultural and especially economic situation of disadvantage. This is why the Democratic Party paid particular attention to women while allocating the Next Generation EU resources.
GB: What were the most important factors in your successful and significant political career, which includes your experience as a member of the European Parliament in 2009 and your election as President of Friuli Venezia Giulia in 2013?
DS: Each life path is unique, and the factors leading us towards making one choice or another are many. If I must find a common thread in my work, I’d say it is the drive I have always had toward directing my efforts to the resolution of concrete problems. This of course exposes you to risks, possibly criticism. When facing a problem, it is much easier to point fingers and lay blame on the - perhaps only alleged - culprits, and then sit back and bask in the audience’s applause. I on the other hand believe that politics is meant to be a constructive rather than a destructive effort, where threads uniting people are what must be spun, instead of evoking their resentments. It can be hard at times, but when I look back it feels like I just started yesterday.
GB: What advice would you give to young women who look up to you as a role model and who would like to set out on a path similar to yours?
DS: Work hard, don’t ever give up. And also, “you are not alone”.