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In Italy, female editor signals women's rise

Women journalists are setting a precedent for Italian women in the workplace. But low female employment remains a problem.

By Anna MomiglianoContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / September 16, 2008

Taking the lead: Concita de Gregorio, the first female editor of L'Unità, conducts an interview in Florence at the Democrats' Festival.

courtesy of l'unitÀ

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Milan, Italy

When Concita de Gregorio became the editor in chief of L'Unità, a national newspaper, she said she wanted to focus on politics and daily news: "We have had enough commentary, now we need facts," she wrote in her first editorial on Aug. 26.

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Ms. Gregorio's appointment and business-like attitude came as a surprise to many Italians, who are not used to seeing a woman in such a powerful position. Founded in 1924 by communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci and now associated with the Democratic Party, L'Unità is one of Italy's most prestigious newspapers.

Sexist critics challenged her appointment as likely to undermine the publication's reputation. "I bet now we'll see many easy recipes for working mothers and advice [in the paper] on how to behave like prostitutes when [their] husbands come home," wrote Paolo Guzzanti, a conservative columnist and lawmaker, in the right-leaning paper Il Giornale.

Italy ranks second-lowest among Western European countries, followed by Portugal, in women's rights and social status issues, according to the human rights organization Save the Children's 'mother' index, which evaluates the worldwide condition of women and children based on income, political participation, and health. In this context, Gregorio's new position is seen to signal a cultural shift.

"I was quite surprised. [Gregorio's hire] is really a sign that times are changing and Italy is getting closer to American and Western European standards," says Anna Mazzone, the editor of Formiche, a news monthly magazine.

"In Italy, we have had the perception that a political paper is not supposed to cover women's right or social issues," adds a female journalist at L'Unità, who wishes not to be identified.

Women readers of the newspaper are as excited as some L'Unità employees by the appointment. "I am as happy as a child to see a woman finally running the paper," says Maria Anna Sabelli, a doctor in Milan who has been reading L'Unità for 30 years.

Gregorio herself, who was not available for comment, tends to downplay the novelty. "It's not as if I'll produce a 'pink' newspaper and that's it," she said last month in an interview with Radio 24.

Italian women in the newsroom

Gregorio's editorship is part of a wider trend of Italian women succeeding in the national media. In 2000, Flavia Perina became the first female editor of the far-right daily Il Secolo d'Italia, and in 2002, Daniela Hamaui became the first woman to head L'Espresso, an investigative news magazine.

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