The 21 women who made the Constitution: why, 75 years later, their battles are still current

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75 years have passed since the entry into force of the Italian Constitution, but the battles of the women who were part of the Constituent Assembly are still extraordinarily current. This is why journalists Angela Iantosca and Romano Cappelletto have written a book to tell young people (and others) the story of these twenty-one women. In «Twentyone. The women who made the Constitution» (Edizioni Paoline), in bookstores from tomorrow, the Constituents speak in the first person, reconstructing their lives and their goals.

Why dust off the story of these women today?
«Because many of the words they spoke after their election on June 2, 1946 – and even earlier during the Resistance – are suitable for our times. Because history should not be forgotten, both in order not to make the same mistakes of the past and because what has been represents the foundations of the present and the future. Because the Constituent Assembly are women who have had the determination to make history, with their presence, with their ability not to retreat, with that spirit that has not silenced them, bringing to Parliament the same strength they had shown as partisans, as runners, as entertainers of cultural circles, as prisoners, when freedom was an abstract concept, when women did not have the right to vote, when their role could only be that of “angels of the hearth”. And also because it is important to remember that the rights we have acquired are the result of conflicts, struggles, suffering, of people who have not given up”.

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How did you come up with this project?
«The idea was born on 8 June 2021. I (Angela Iantosca, ed) had been invited to moderate an event organized in Latina, my hometown, right on the Constituents, and which was also attended by Livia Turco, president of the Nilde Iotti Foundation. As I asked questions, I listened to her answers, I began to perceive that emotion that I feel every time an idea arises in me that it is necessary – if not urgent – to transform into an in-depth analysis, into a book, into an article. I decided that I didn’t have to be alone on this journey through history: I had to share this project with a man. This is why I involved Romano Cappelletto, a lover of the Constitution and history, right from the start. Often when it comes to women’s issues it is women who deal with it, but I believe that the first step towards overcoming certain boundaries is precisely to involve those who are a fundamental part of the emancipation process in the debate».

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Angela Iantosca and Romano Cappelletto

The story that fascinated you the most?
«I certainly loved Nilde Iotti very much. But one of the women who fascinated me the most was Teresa Mattei, “the one with the mimosa”. She is usually remembered for having associated the mimosa flower with women’s day, she has carried on fundamental battles in her life, never giving up. She was the youngest woman elected to the Constituent Assembly, she was a member of the Committee of Eighteen, she worked for equality between men and women, for women’s access to the judiciary and for that article 3 which is pivotal and guarantor of the dignity and equality of all citizens. But she also contributed to the drafting of article 51 concerning the access of women to all jobs and then of article 98. She also showed her courage in her private life: when she became pregnant by a married man, faced with the request of the party to which she belonged to have an abortion, she did not accept: she could never have allowed anyone to suggest what to do with her body and her life. So he preferred to face the extreme consequences of her choices, she who was called the cursed anarchist, arriving to be expelled from the party, but continuing to “do politics” dealing with childhood and leaving a message of coherence and hope for posterity ».

What obstacles did these women encounter?
«The greatest obstacles were encountered in Parliament, among colleagues who did not welcome their presence. Suffice it to say that Bianca Bianchi, of the PSI, when she was elected on June 2, 1946, obtained twice the votes of Sandro Pertini, yet she was not named head of the list and her companions made her sign a letter of resignation which they would have used in the Chamber if she had moved too independently. Even the press of the time didn’t treat them as they deserved: Bianca Bianchi herself was told in the newspapers through descriptions that lingered on her clothing and her blonde hair (can’t you find an analogy with what often happens nowadays?). In addition to this, they have encountered obstacles in having some texts of the laws of the Constitution corrected, fighting strenuously to break down prejudices and machismo and to insert keywords that have protected all Italian women from then until today”.

The cover of Twentyone. The women who made the Constitution

Adele Bei paid close attention to her words: she called herself “senator” and not “senator”.
“Words matter. They do it legally, but also in daily life, in the speeches they make. The use of certain expressions can help naturalize a formal equality that too often is not substantial. For this reason, the use of the feminine could help to go in a direction that seems to be struggling to establish itself, it could help the new generations to grow up with the perception of the naturalness of some expressions that tell the naturalness of roles declined in the masculine and feminine because they are represented by both genders. At the same time, I don’t think it’s enough to use the feminine to show respect for women. Sometimes there is the risk of falling into false do-gooders when the form remains only form and does not become substance or sometimes some people think that that kind of formal “respect” is enough to fulfill one’s “duties”».

Words, therefore, are important, but they are not enough.
«It would be important that words were supported by concrete actions that make custom, practice, normality something that still amazes. As long as we emphasize the presence of women, as long as we say “she was the first woman”, as long as we need to guarantee a female presence in any context to avoid that the forums are only male, I believe that equality will not have been achieved »

The Constituent Assembly consisted of 556 seats: women represented a minority. Yet their contribution was enormous.
«Only 3.8% of the Constituents were women. Only 21 out of 556 people. Yet they were decisive. This should teach us a lot about the power of ideas, about what we could achieve today, starting from the assumption that many rights have been conquered. It should give us the strength to fight harder. We don’t need women’s quotas to be protected, we are not an endangered species, we just have to remember that each of us, by networking, can make a difference in the acquisition of rights».

According to the constituents, women had to be included in work, overcome all discrimination and, at the same time, be able to be mothers. Even today these issues are very topical precisely because they are still unresolved. Why this stalemate over the decades?
«Fear, backwardness, the need to stay within pre-established schemes. It is the crisis of the contemporary world, of consciences, of men. But maybe also women who don’t remember what’s behind them, what battles were waged to be what we want. We should honor these struggles, substantiate them in our behaviors. Teresa Mattei said: “We don’t want our women to become masculinised, we don’t want Italian women to aspire to an absurd identity with men; we simply want them to have the opportunity to expand their forces, all their energies, all their will to do good in the democratic reconstruction of our country”. I think they are reflections to return to and to help us direct our path».

For the first time, the prime minister is a woman. Why, despite the great political commitment of women, have we only got there now?
«Because changes take time. Suffice it to consider that many of the battles waged by the Constituent Assembly materialized after a long time: we had to wait until 1963 for the entry of women into the judiciary, the 1970s for the reform of family law, the law on divorce, abortion and on equality between spouses, 1996 so that sexual violence becomes a crime against the person and not against public morality and morality, 2012 so that legal equality between children born inside and outside marriage is completed. As the Premier said in her inauguration speech, quoting Nilde Iotti among others, the glass roof has been demolished. But this can only be the beginning. There is still a long way to go and the hope is that one day we will no longer be surprised by the presence of a woman on an important seat of power or of a company or any other activity”.

Source: Vanity Fair

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