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The Times of India - November 4, 2006 The newly elected Italian International Foreign Trade Minister, Emma Bonino, has India as her focus country for the next year and is also an active activist for women's issues. by Dipannita Ghosh Biswas How will you function as International Trade Minister and also look into social issues — like abortion and female genital mutilation (FGM)? In this era of globalisation, the issue of how to jointly promote trade and human rights is a key issue. There is no existing “doctrine” to refer to, however it remains that trade and commercial exchanges not only mean economic development but also an opportunity for greater openness that enables to promote civil and human rights. For this reason, I intend to use all the instruments at my disposal as minister, while I expect other actors - political parties, parliamentarians, NGOs, activists, individuals - to carry on, at their respective levels, promoting human and civil rights wherever. Tell us something about your childhood? I was born in a small town in the north-west of Italy. Like many in that part of the country, I come from a family with an agricultural background. In the 50’s Italy was still recovering from the aftermath of World War II and life was pretty simple. I have a brother and a sister and my mother, who recently expired, always had a strong influence over me. Was politics always your calling? No, I discovered politics when I moved to Milan to pursue my studies. Following a personal experience, I started collaborating with an organisation which set up clandestine clinics that helped women who were unable to pay for the “golden spoon” or to fly abroad to carry out an abortion (abortion was illegal in Italy then). In 1975, while promoting a campaign on civil disobedience, I turned myself over to justice for procured abortion. The case helped to raise the issue of clandestine abortion and led to a call for a popular referendum. At the time, only the Radical Party was supporting the issue of legalisation and in 1976, I was elected to Parliament in the Radical lists. Subsequently, in 1978 we obtained a law that opened the doors to the legalisation of abortion in Italy. You have been known to fight for the cause of FGM. Why FGM and how do you intend to tackle it? For over twenty years, especially in Africa, courageous women have being conducting initiatives against this violent and cruel tradition. With the Radical association “No Peace without Justice”, we responded to their cry for help. This approach of mine is also true for other causes, for instance the support I gave as European Commissioner to Afesip, an organisation based in Cambodia, and ran by an extraordinary woman called Somaly Mam, that fights against sexual crimes against minors in particular. Do you think all the awards and rewards that you have received matter or are they just milestones on your life’s journey? It is wrong to shun awards because they crown battles for a cause, often carried out in difficult circumstances. One might personally embody a given cause, as happened to me, but it rewards the commitment of many and can be of example to others. When I was given in 1998 the Prince of Asturias award I decided to share it with eminent women like Somaly Mam, Graça Machel, Fatiha Boudiaf, Rigoberta Menchù, Fatana Gailani and Olayinka Koso-Thomas. How successful have you been in your activism? On some more than others. In Italy we managed to enshrine divorce in laws that today only the Catholic church challenges. Legalisation of abortion and family planning followed a similar path but, unlike divorce, it is always at risk of suffering setbacks. There has been some headway in capital punishment too. Now 54 states worldwide, still practice capital punishment. Ten years ago there were 99. Do you still think after fighting for women’s causes universally, we have reached a better position now? I see improvements around the world, albeit slow ones, even in my country. If I look back at how it was 50 years ago, well I can hardly recognize it from the women’s point of view. Do you think the plight of women is same in all countries of the world, be it Italy or India? In Western societies, we see women fighting for a dominating prominence in the decisionmaking process. In other parts of the world, we are talking of women still being oppressed in an unacceptable way, be it forced marriages, FGM, house confinement, access to educational facilities. But the goal remains universal: women’s rights have to be seen as human rights. We, in Kolkata would love to know how much you have heard about the city? I regret not having been to Kolkata yet. Its role in the Indian and Bengali culture is huge. I think of Tagore, for instance, a great friend of Gandhi. And West Bengal is definitely interesting, run as it is by CPI-M, a marxist communist party that promotes liberal reforms making West Bengal among the few states with the highest rates of growth: an interesting contradiction. I would like to spend some time in Kolkata for sure. India, in fact, south-east Asia, has had a number of female politicians. What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages? India has had meaningful women leaders always and still has, from Sonia Gandhi to Sheila Dixit. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years Indian and Asian women in general, will have some lessons to give to the rest of the world. The disadvantage of being a woman in politics is that, more often than not, women must prove that they are at least three times more prepared than men, in order to be heard, in brief, areas where men can put into practice their “muscular” policies. The advantage with women is that they can combine muscles and brains in a more balanced and healthy way. You have recently announced that India will be your focus country for the next year. Why did you choose India? India is the largest democracy in the world and I believe stronger ties between the two countries can be mutually beneficial. Italians should make an effort to be more proactive in exploring the possibilities offered by areas with interesting potential that might be lesser known to us. Traditionally, our exports include industrial machineries, chemicals and artificial fibres, infrastructures, defence and car industries, while areas that need improving are the food industry, in particular transformation and conservation - and the cold chain especially - and the cinema industry, given the strong tradition in both countries. I also think that what needs enhancing is not only the urban areas but provinces and districts that have very similar characteristics both in Italy and India.

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[ Asia ] [ Cambogia ] [ Commercio Estero ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ] [ Economia ] [ Globalizzazione ] [ India ] [ Italia ] [ Made in Italy ] [ Stop FGM! ] [ Subcontinente indiano ] [ Unione Europea ]

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