May 8, 2008 / 1:39 PM / 11 years ago

Ex-showgirl stars in Berlusconi's female cast

ROME (Reuters) - Even though a former showgirl and a lawmaker once voted “Miss Parliament” are among the female ministers in Italy’s new government, critics are panning Silvio Berlusconi for not being “pink” enough.

Italy's new (L-R) Youth Policies Minister Giorgia Meloni, Education Minister Maria Stella Gelmini, Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna and Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo pose for photographers during their swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale palace in Rome, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Berlusconi managed to keep his election pledge of naming at least four women ministers, weeks after he dismissed Spain’s women-majority cabinet as “too pink” and declared it was hard to find qualified women in Italian politics.

Only two women are among the 12 ministers to hold first-tier posts, taking over environment and education. The other two will look after equal opportunities and youth affairs, which are among the nine ministries without portfolio.

“The women ministers in Berlusconi’s government are truly few — 4 out of 21 — so less than a fifth,” said Vittoria Franco, a centre-left senator now in opposition.

“There are four of them in posts that are traditionally more feminine. It’s a clear backwards step on the equal opportunities front.”

The main opposition Democratic Party’s No. 2 official Dario Franceschini said part of the “complete disappointment” with Berlusconi’s cabinet list lay with the low percentage of women.

Berlusconi, 71, cultivates a playboy image and openly jokes about his fondness for pretty women, which has earned him public reprimands from his wife.

He once caused a minor diplomatic incident by joking he had used his seduction skills on the female Finnish president.

Perhaps reflecting the new prime minister’s attitudes, the Italian media concentrated on the female ministers’ good looks and relative youth — their ages range from 31 to 41 — in Italy’s geriatric political class.

“FOUR MUSKETEERS”

“Young, beautiful and ambitious - Silvio’s four dames”, headlined Milan daily il Giorno. Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi’s brother, called them his “Four Musketeers”.

Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna, who placed sixth in the 1997 Miss Italy pageant, is best known as a former showgirl on television.

Berlusconi once famously said he would marry her if he was single and reminded her of the medieval law letting estate lords deflower virgins on their wedding night.

“She has lost her vampish airs, but not her prettiness,” Il Giornale said, in a piece on the “pink wind” in the government.

Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo’s good looks earned her the “Miss Parliament” title in the 1990s and the goodwill of her leftist rivals. A popular comedian once proclaimed she was the best thing in Italian politics.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Italy’s best-selling magazine, last month dismissed both women as “soubrettes”, a term used for the showgirls who decorate Italian TV shows.

The 34-year-old lawyer Mariastella Gelmini, at the education ministry, and Giorgia Meloni, the 31-year-old Youth Minister, round out the female line-up.

“Compared to the expectations of seriousness that were being encouraged, 21 ministers with just four women doesn’t seem a big sign of change,” said opposition lawmaker Antonello Soro.

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