The theme of this year's International Women's Day - 'The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum' - was one which resonated with Italy's female lawyers.
Great progress has already been made over the years for women in the legal profession in Italy. But there is still a bit of work to be done - as a review of the history of legal women reveals.
Italy leads the way for women lawyers since 1777
The story commences over 230 years ago when Maria Pellegrina Amoretti became the first woman in Europe to obtain a legal degree. Maria, who studied at the University of Pavia, was granted her degree in 1777 after defending her thesis on 'Dowry Law in Ancient Rome'. At the same time she became the third woman in history to obtain a doctorate degree.
At this time Pavia was under the control of the Habsburg Empire and Italy was not united as a country until 1861. This unification was a great step forward for the country and a few steps backwards for female professionals. In fact it was not until 1874 that the Italian Legal Profession Act was passed - stipulating that a doctorate degree was necessary to practice in the legal profession. However, the Public Education Act, which allowed women to study at university, was not passed until two years later in 1876.
An article on 'Women Lawyers in Europe' published by the (American) Woman Lawyers' Journal in 1917 commented on the lack of female lawyers in Europe - “... women could use, besides their juridical reason, the charms of their sex and that the judges could not withstand these wiles and thus would justice be prejudiced.”
In 2006 the Italian Association of Young Lawyers (ANPA – Giovani Legali Italiani) published a report which revealed that Italy was the only country in Europe with no female representation on the board of its National Association of Lawyers – the Consiglio Nazionale Forense (CNF), at a time when the National Lawyers Association of Turkey had females on its board.
Not until October 2010 did Italy's National Association of Lawyers elect its first two female board members in many years: Susanna Pisano from the District Court of Appeals of Cagliari and Carla Broccardo from the District Court of Appeals of Trento. Before this there was only one other instance of a female being appointed on the Board of the CNF - in 1926.
However, when one looks at the broad spectrum of the Italian legal market there is a notable balance between male and female legal professionals. A report published by the CCBE – The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe in December 2012 reveals that Italy has the highest number of lawyers all of Europe with 233,853 registered lawyers– of which 46 per cent (107,720) are women.
2013 could be the year
2013 may be the year that female lawyers outnumber men in Italy, predicted Susanna Pisano, a member of the board of the CNF and of the CNF’s Equal Opportunities Committee. This is due to the high percentage legal trainees (in Italian practicante abilitata) in Italy that are women - reported at 59 per cent compared to 42 per cent of men. Indeed, the past five years has seen an increase not only in the nnumber of female lawyers, but also notaries and forensic scientists .
Wage equality issues
Although the Gender Agenda is Gaining Momentum in Italy – there is still another challenge facing female legal professionals in Italy – wage equality. According to statistics published by the Cassa Previdenza Forense (the National Italian Pension Fund for Lawyers ) the average female lawyer in Italy in 2010 declared an annual income of Euro 28,160 while the average male counterpart declared an annual income of 61,967.
These numbers also reflect the findings published in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2011 (which was published in 2012). Here Italy was ranked 126 out of 129 countries surveyed in terms of wage equality. On a national level, taking into account the average salary of all workers ( professionals and non-professionals) in Italy, this report revealed that the national average salary for a woman in Italy was Euro 21,465 and for men Euro 44,143.
In the words of Klaus Schwab – the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum: “The key for the future of any country and any institution is the ability to develop, retain and attract the best talent.Women make up one half of the world’s human capital empowering and educating girls and women and leveraging their talent and leadership fully in the global economy, politics and society are thus fundamental elements of succeeding and prospering in an ever more competitive world…”
I could not agree with him more.