A Europe of Women?

PARIS – Are women in Europe on the verge of becoming an engine for political change? In economic-development circles, experience and common sense suggest that progress, accountability, and hard work start with and depend on women. Micro-credits, for example, are much more efficient when women receive and repay them. Perhaps because they bear children and must find the means to feed them, women are now perceived as the best and most determined “agents of change.”

That seems to be as true now of European politics as it has been of economics in parts of Africa and Asia. The results of Italy’s recent municipal elections could be a signal of an incipient electoral dynamic: it was women who voted Silvio Berlusconi’s party out of power in Milan, a city that he has long controlled (and the original seat of his power).

No direct link exists between that result and the dramatic Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal in New York, but in the immediate aftermath of DSK’s arrest, Italian women and young voters decisively mobilized to defeat Berlusconi’s party (led in Milan, ironically, by a woman). These voters could no longer stand the combination of machismo and vulgarity that had once served so well the man Italian humorists now call “Berlus-Kahn.”

When Berlusconi first came to power 17 years ago, he had the support of a majority of women. They were not discouraged by his ambivalent perception of them (by turns celebrating their traditional domesticity and glorifying their sexual objectification). But Italian society has changed: most women are now working, and they are no longer willing to accept Belusconi’s anachronistic and outrageous chauvinism.