· Women of value ·
Bassano del Grappa, 26 September 1944. The Nazis hang 31 partisans on the street. Each hanged man dangles from a tree. They are all extremely young, just as the Nazis and Fascists who perpetrated the slaughter are all extremely young, the Fascists, former Fiamme Bianche [white flames], part of the Flak division under the command of an ss officer, Karl Franz Tausch. Not one of the executors or originators of the slaughter was to be subjected to trial after the war. Witnesses of this execution included numerous students brought from schools to see the lugubrious spectacle. Among them was a 17-year-old girl who attended the teaching institute in Bassano. This was Tina Anselmi, who was to become the first woman minister of the Italian Republic. After this episode the young woman decided to take an active part in the Resistance movement and became a courier of the Cesare Battisti brigade – taking the nom de guerre of Gabriella – and then of the Venetian regional corps of the volontari della libertà, the Volunteers for Freedom.
Tina Anselmi was born to a Catholic family in Castelfranco Veneto in 1927. Her mother managed an inn and her father by contrast was an assistant pharmacist with socialist ideas and for this reason was persecuted by Fascism. In December 1944, even before the end of the war, Tina Anselmi joined the Christian Democracy Party, obeying that political passion which was to inspire her entire life and give the title to a wonderful book of her memoirs, written with Anna Vinci, entitled Storia di una passione politica [story of a political passion]. After the war Tina Anselmi obtained a degree in literature at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and became an elementary school teacher. But her real path was politics: politics meant in the broad sense, as attention to social problems, work problems and daily life, in addition to the management of the Res Publica.
In the first 20 years following the Liberation she was a trade unionist, in the meantime involving herself actively in the Christian Democracy Party (dc) until in 1959 she became a member of its National Council. In 1968 she was elected for the first time to the Chamber of Deputies, an office which she retained through many legislatures until 1992. During the years of her parliamentary mandates she was a member of commissions on work and on social security, hygiene and health care, and social affairs. Having three times been Undersecretary, in 1976, under the presidency of Andreotti, she became Minister of Work and Social Security.
She was the first woman to play this role in Italy and only 30 years had passed since the vote which brought women to vote for the first time in 1946. In this office, Tina Anselmi had approved in 1977 a law that provided for the equal treatment and hiring for jobs of men and women. It was a battle which Minister Anselmi fought for many years since, in 1962, at the Naples Congress of the DC, representing young Christian Democrat women, she had maintained with determination, breaking many taboos, the need to change the legislation in order to support the rights of women workers. And later, in 1993, she was also responsible for the “gender” clause which made possible the increase, in the new electoral law, of the number of women elected and which, introducing the quota system sparked numerous battles. If in 1986 the percentage of women elected to parliament had been six percent, in 2017 it was 30 per cent.
From 1978 to 1979 Tina Anselmi was Health Minister in two successive Andreotti governments. And here too she lent her name to a reform of great importance, that of the National Health Service, which implemented that right to health care which had been sanctioned by the Constitution: “The Republic protects health as a fundamental right of the individual and a concern of the community, and guarantees treatment free of charge to the poor”. This reform was initially strongly opposed, especially by doctors. Tina Anselmi spoke of it in these words in 2003: “I have to say that in those years, marked by very diversified positions, there certainly was a clash. And yet a basic adherence existed to that principle on which the reform of the Italian health care system was constructed: an adherence to the values on which to build the protection and right of citizens to have a guarantee on the part of the State for all that concerns their integrity. To build a system that would assume the protection of the person as its founding value”.
Thus, among the reforms which have had the greatest effect on Italian society in the past 50 years, were these two of great scope that she implemented. However, Tina Anselmi also left her name attached to another issue of great importance in the world of Italian politics. These were the years of terrorism, the years of the assassination of Aldo Moro, to whom Tina Anselmi had had close ties. Three years after his death, she was chosen in 1981 to preside over the Parliamentary Commission for the investigation whose task was to shed light on the p-2 Masonic Lodge. It was an undertaking that would expose her to threats of every kind, leading her to delve into obscure intrigues which had heavily marked the country’s history. Yet it was also an extraordinary recognition of her profound and indisputable political honesty, an honesty which could be read on her open, clear and courageous face.
Tina Anselmi was convinced that there was a close connection between Moro’s assassination and the events linked to the p-2 Lodge and above all that both these events represented a threat to Italian democracy. And this was seen in the majority report of the Commission on p-2 which bears her signature and contains the clear affirmation that p-2, through the connivance established in every direction and at every level and because of the activities brought into being had constituted a cause of danger for the complete realization of the democratic system. Anselmi was to make similar assertions in the following years when speaking of the Moro case. These conclusions exposed her this time not to attacks but rather to delegitimization, to ridicule and to accusations of raking up old history. What is certain, however, is that after the conclusion of the Parliamentary Commission for Investigation Tina Anselmi was no longer a parliamentary candidate and had an increasingly marginal position in the party. Until the end of the 1990s she continued to hold the office of President of the Commission for the investigation of assets confiscated from Jewish citizens in the years of anti-Semitic persecution (1938-1945), working in close contact with Tullia Zevi, President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities and bringing to light in opposition to public opinion, the blind zeal with which the Italian bureaucracy had implemented the racial laws of 1938.
Her deep honesty and the charism which she enjoyed caused her name to be among the candidates to the Presidency of the Republic in 1992, following the Presidency of Cossiga. She received 19 votes and Oscar Luigi Scalfaro was elected. She died when she was almost 90 years old in 2016. In that same year a postage stamp was dedicated to her, an honour seldom given to someone who is still alive. She was a woman of value in all senses. Thanks to her we can say that Italian democracy has had not only fathers but also mothers.
St. Peter’s Square
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