Vice President of the European Parliament, the High-Level Group on Gender Equality and the Parliament’s Bureau (2007-2009). Chair of the Committee on Development (2004-2007) and of the Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council (1999-2004), and member, among others, of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (1999-2009), she is also one of the founders of the international network Women in Black against war and violence (WIB).
Luisa Morgantini (Villadossola, Italia, 1940) is always the first to marvel at the titles she has received. Citizen of the world, as she defines herself, Morgantini has made it to the highest levels without this being her goal. The one goal she’s always had instead, fighting injustice from below, is something that she continues to struggle with every day to achieve.
What does Women in Black represent to you?
It is my total support. I don’t believe that all the women are automatically for peace and justice just because they have a female body, but there’s no doubt that stating, as women, that war has to be out of history is what unites us the most, once women were excluded from military conflicts and only lived them as victims. Being a Woman in Black means struggling for a culture able to demilitarize not only the states, but also our minds; refusing to be enemies but wanting, instead, to understand the reasons of one another and, most of all, to see the asymmetries.
WIB strongly believes in the importance of “diplomacy from below”. Regarding gender discrimination, do you personally consider that the first big step toward a change should come from there?
I firmly believe in the institution, that’s why I have been aEuropean Parliamentarian, but I also think relations between women from below are basic. As WIB, we set up an International Women Policy and what we said was something that in reality went against the policies of the governments who made the wars. Getting connected from below shows, also to the United Nations, that from there relations can be built and the image of the enemy can be destroyed, and is one thing we want institutions to make their own.
Can you tell me one scene or story with the WIB you think you won’t forget?
The story of an Israeli woman in black who had her daughter killed by a Palestinian kamikaze and of a Palestinian one who lost her own because of Israeli soldiers who meet every time they have to pass checkpoints. They are fighting together for the end of the military occupation. Thus the sorrow, but also the hope, that no child will ever have to be killed.
From your experience as a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights what are the main obstacles stopping women from achieving equal rights and duties in the actual Europe?
There are very many. The traditional ones; those of a society, which in spite of being modern and progressive, still has a culture more based on the affirmation and success of men in the public space. In the last years, really, women have taken steps forward in order to reach public spaces and recognition, but they’re more at a civil society level and very few are at the top ones. When, if I think of political life, in Italy for instance, a decline in women’s presence can be perfectly seen.
In your opinion, what is the cause of this decline?
The social system is backwards in regards to the presence of services which, for instance, could protect women when becoming mothers. Even if at a legislative level there are equal rights, the reality is that it is not so.
In the 10 years during which you had been working on these issues at the European Parliament, what goals have been achieved?
On one hand we carried on projects aiming to strengthen a female entrepreneurship. From the other, a lot was done against women trafficking, domestic violence and also for women in conflict, looking to find strategies which might help to make women play a role in peace promotion.
Talking about your personal experience, how do you think you made it, as a woman, to get where you are and not to be gotten rid of on the way?
I was able to stay away from the power manias and from “political jargon”. I don’t know, I would say my love for the world and the people helped me a lot. And this is something I learned as a child. The place where I come from is where the first partisan resistance took place, a world of workers where fatigue, distress, injustice were very present. I have always cared for everyone’s well being and I could never stand abuses of power nor arrogance. Maybe that’s why I made it.
But, tons of women who might have intentions as noble as yours are, bit by bit, knocked out in their rise in the hierarchic scale. You succeeded in avoiding it…
You know what? Perhaps I never thought about coming up a hierarchic scale. It has always happened and, every time, I was surprised to be nominated to become parliamentarian or to be elected as the Parliament vice-president. Every time I am startled and I feel I’m not up to it. Therefore I don’t know, maybe it’s a temperamental fact, but also a precise choice. I have decided to stay, even when I was inside the institutions, with those who had elected me, those I had worked with a whole life, the workers, the youngsters, the women, the poor ones.
In “The Picture of Dorian Gray” Oscar Wilde says that not getting married is the only way to keep having hope…
I didn’t get married because I’ve never had time; I haven’t noticed the passing of time
…and do you think there’s a relation between you not having started a family and being able to keep the independence, freedom and optimism which define you?
Possibly yes. I mean, I certainly couldn’t have lived all the experiences if I had had family’s duties –and joys-. Maybe I could be this way because my relationships weren’t forcing me to cook, feed a child, having to come back home and have a second job -even if I know there are obviously women and men who have chosen to start a family and are still free and independent. It depends on what you decide to do. I have opted to be citizen of the world but deep-seated to the earth, in my identity, with people.
Do you feel you somehow had to convert to the dominant male model to get where you got?
When I was very young, once I was for freedom, my independence and autonomy, yes, I think I did have moments when I wanted to be like a man. From one hand I wanted to be as intelligent as they (and more than they) and, from the other, I always wanted to be their friend. When I was a young woman I didn’t have friends, they just had boyfriends and husbands. Later on, instead, I matured and always formed more relationships of solidarity with the women, all of them.
Are there still concrete moments when you feel you’re not taken into account in the same way you would be if you were a man?
Yes, very many, but it’s more a feeling. I can’t think of a concrete example because, honestly I’ve always never minded too much.
This might partly answer the question of how you made it, but it appears that certain things don’t dishearten you too much…
Yes, certainly. I try not to overburden the others for the things that happen to me. The first thing I think is “What have I done?” “Where have I done wrong?” instead of what the others might have done. I believe this also might have granted me to continue on this way and to be able to keep going with my 70 years through the roads of the world looking for some peace and some justice.
In your opinion is a male emancipation also needed in order to overcome gender discrimination?
Yes, absolutely. I consider that men also need to free themselves from the chauvinism chains and that they necessitate work on themselves in order to change their own image and way of doing. I think there’s common work between women and men to change and influence each other. This is an established society but single people can change and, with them, their role also changes.
Now that you don’t have institutional charges anymore, what are you committed to?
I’ve just gotten back from Palestine, where we participated in a conference of the Palestinian Popular Non-violent Resistance and we launched an International Network, which I co-ordinate, to support them. Then Africa, debt cancellation, immigrants, and try and have a little of humanity in this world.