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Italy: New PM gaffe sparks debate about working women

Rome, 23 April(AKI) - Prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi has divided left-wing commentators with controversial comments he made about the women in Spain's cabinet.

The Italian left-wing daily, Il Riformista, on Wednesday published diverse opinions about Spain's new defence minister, Carme Chacon, who is seven months pregnant.

Last week, Berlusconi said Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had appointed too many women to his cabinet, which he considered "too pink".

Speaking on Radio Monte Carlo, Berlusconi joked that Zapatero "would have problems" because there were nine women in his new cabinet.

Chacon's role as defence minister has been attacked by journalists from Il Riformista with journalist Lucetta Scaraffia claiming that the minister was "behaving like a man, and forgetting to be a woman."

A second journalist and TV producer Giovanni Minoli wrote an article in the same paper further criticising the female defence minister.

"I do not agree with her theatrical trip to Afghanistan, 'sold' as a symbol of conquest and modernity," said Minoli, a journalist and director of state-run TV station RAI Educational.

Minoli said that it would have been better and more "culturally innovative" if Chacon had sought and obtained leave from executive office for at least 10 months.

He said this would have allowed her to breastfeed the baby calmly and give her time to gradually resume her ministerial duties.

"I do not agree with Chacon's nomination as minister of defence being a symbol of the new Spain, where women are a majority in government," said Minoli.

Last week Spain's minister of infrastructure Magdalena Alvarez said Berlusconi's words were "absolutely inappropriate and offensive" to all Spaniards.

Zapatero has appointed nine women as ministers, while there are only eight male ministers in Zapatero's cabinet.

Meanwhile, Giovanna Melandri, Italy's centre-left outgoing youth and sports minister, supported Chacon's decision in a separate news article published on Wedneday.

"Carme is privileged, in the sense that, like me she had the choice of whether to accept or reject the double-challenge of being a mother and minister at the same time. Nobody ordered her to do it," said Melandri.

Melandri, who is aligned with the centre-left party of outgoing prime minister Romano Prodi, herself became minister only 40 days after the birth of her baby girl in 1998.

"For me, it was tiring. Tiring but not impossible. I was lucky, because I had someone to help me, and the same help should be guaranteed by society to every mother," concluded Melandri in an article published in the same newspaper.

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