Women, frustrated by slow progress on gender equality, are pushing for quotas that will ensure better female representation in board rooms and politics. But quotas are not the solution, Italian Senator Emma Bonino told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview on International Women's Day.
"I'm convinced that quotas are not the solution, especially in a country where nepotism prevails over merit, and they might bring to top positions inadequate women, selected for their docility and not for their capacity," Bonino said, referring to her native Italy.
Current vice-president of the Italian Senate and former EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Bonino would prefer to see the establishment of an authority against gender discrimination, in accordance with Directive 54 of EU legislation, which would be independent from governments and have the power to impose sanctions.
"Good laws are indispensable, but there should also be constant practice and promotion of a more equal and a more open culture," Bonino said, insisting that ensuring that women are represented in politics is insufficient as decision-making positions are still widely dominated by men.
According to Bonino, such a reality hampers the establishment of a system of meritocracy and does not create enough space to consider women's issues.
Creating proper networks of services would help, said Bonino, because women generally still carry the burden of most family and household tasks.
"Domestic responsibilities rest almost entirely on their shoulders, from childcare to assisting the elderly assistance. This [network of services] could be accomplished by using the funds saved from the recent increase of women's state pension age," she stressed.
"It's also good to remember that the emancipation of European women is determined by the availability of immigrant domestic workers, thus permitting women to focus on their careers. Here we should remember that immigrant women participate in gender equality," she said.
Finally, the public media, which has a major influence on society, should contribute to eradicating a culture which is still strongly based on old stereotypes and traditions that do not exist anymore, Bonino argued.
"Unfortunately, women's representation in Italian media is still very stereotyped, and usually forgets women with careers, who work and contribute to the economic growth of the country," she said.
Bonino claimed that change in Italy has slowed down in the last 20 years. "Maybe women believed that they had won their battle, which is not true, as today there is a real need for acceleration. It is in this sense that we should interpret the demonstrations of women last February, and the other initiatives of female society," she added.
Emma Bonino is the only Italian to feature on a list of the world's 150 most influential women compiled by American magazine Newsweek.
She was speaking to EURACTIV Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.