Anselmi, the woman who was above all a Catholic politician

What women owe to Tina

 Quello che le donne debbono a Tina  DCM-006
03 June 2023

Tina Anselmi, or rather we should refer to her, as a Catholic who loved politics. A woman who was not afraid of the world of men. Thus, it happened that during the Italian War of Liberation she sided with the partisans, at just 17 years of age she was a relay girl with the task of ensuring connections between the various partisan brigades, and risked her life in doing so. That, having become a trade unionist in a retrogressive and bossy region like Veneto, she defended the women workers, with courage and self-sacrifice; the poorest and most discriminated against, in a working world without protection and rights.

Tina Anselmi was an MP of the Republic when there were very few women in Parliament and there were certainly no “pink quotas” to protect them.

That she could achieve an important role in the Christian Democrats, the largest Italian party at that time, which had very few female members within it. Moreover, that she was listened to and appreciated by the many men who wielded power in the party and in the country.

Tina Anselmi was not a feminist but from a young age she was clear about what she thought were the limitations of men in politics. To those who insinuated that politics is not women's business, she replied, “With what men knew we have had the war and fascism”.

In addition, in a Republic founded on a Constitution specifying an equality between the sexes, after thirty years the leadership of a ministry had still not been entrusted to a female representative. Instead, in 1976, she made that a reality when she became the first “female minister”.

It can happen (though very rarely) that politics goes hand in hand with the trade union. As “ministro” of labour (at that time there was not yet the use of a feminine term for public offices) in Italy, where equal pay for men and women was still a distant possibility, and where it was possible to fire a woman who married (discrimination begins in the classrooms, afterall), she promoted an equal opportunities law in 1977. Then, the following year, when she became Minister of Health, she passed the National Health Service Act.

All this was Tina Anselmi. A woman born in 1927 who made history in the Italian Republic. A woman full of courage, profoundly religious, yet who nevertheless based her political activity on the principle of secularism. As Minister of Health, in 1978 she signed Law 194 for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.

All of these details and more besides are recounted in the film about her, with the title, Una vita per la democrazia [A Life For Democracy], shown on Italian television channel Rai 1, directed by Luciano Manuzzi, with actress Sarah Felberbaum playing the part of Tina.  

This film pays attention, care, interest, and curiosity for a woman who single-handedly overturned all the stereotypes that were still strong in the 1970s. It does so without clamour or apparent rebellion; but with action, with conviction, with determination, with the certainty of being in the right.

Tina Anselmi held important posts in the country’s government and in the party that were the pivot of that government in which feminism was founded. Women marched in the streets and squares and demanded freedom and rights. The film does not tell us (and it is a shame) what Tina thought of those movements and their demands.  We do know, however, that she promoted education, labor and health laws that helped them become a reality. She stated, “Laws must anticipate society”.  In her work they accompany its changes. And they know how to seek solutions.

It was the concreteness of this woman, the sensitivity of a Catholic and the skill of the politician that led, after fourteen years of time-consuming discussions, to health care reform. As she fought against bureaucracies and pharmaceutical companies, she stated, “Health is the most important thing there is and should be equal for all”. The guiding star of that battle, which still makes our country one of the best in public health management, is equality.  The health market -she replied to those who asked her about the reform-, is asymmetrical, the sick person is weak and the pharmaceutical companies are strong. This asymmetry must be done away with and done so with the weight of the state's choices with a law that promotes healthcare as an essential public good.

Then “la Tina” [the Tina], as many continued to affectionately call her in her Veneto region, became the inflexible adversary of the occult powers and chaired the P2 Commission, the parliamentary commission of enquiry into the Masonic lodge discovered in 1981 and considered a secret and subversive association. Once again, she was the only woman to confront men who built in silence, in a vacuum and also with the complicity of the institutions the dangerous plots that led to the emptying of democracy. Tina discovered an occult world supported by a power group. At that moment, she understood that “politics” is not only what she had believed in. The opponents are not only those she saw in Parliament and in the institutions, they do not fight face to face.  “Democracy is the most beautiful but also the most exhausting form of government there is”, she concluded.

She had always known this but after chairing the commission on the P2 Lodge she was completely convinced. This is precisely why she went ahead concretely, with hard-work, and inflexibly. Until her retirement, back to Castelfranco Veneto, for some time still a deputy, then from 1992 a citizen once again.

Absent from her life - and from the film about her life - seems to be prayer, faith, and the relationship with the transcendent. Only one scene of a mass and a sign of the cross appear. The girl first, the woman and the politician later, always moved by immanence, in reality, in service, in the concreteness of things to be done. Be it partisan actions, be it party choices or decisions for the country. Yet ‘Anselmi’s politics’ was Catholic, firmly Catholic, and it is impossible to understand the value and meaning of her existence without taking this into account and investigating the deep connection between her being a believer, her being a woman and her political action. Without seeing what appears against the light but which nevertheless illuminates an existence.

In the eighty-nine years of her life -she died in 2016- this connection was inseparable for her. Faith does not need to be proclaimed, it shows itself in how we work even in those of government. A feminine identity permeated her entire political existence. Even without feminism.  Moreover, a political experience would not be as rich and consistent without that faith and that identity. Tina Anselmi walked alone as a woman in the world of men. Nevertheless, she remained herself and even managed to change it. Perhaps she can no longer be a model, but it is not rhetorical to say that even today the story of her life is both enriching and helps the future.  Tina Anselmi died in 2016, aged eighty-nine.