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Imagine United States Senator Kelly A. Ayotte of New Hampshire reporting to work at a Senate Armed Services Committee session with her barely week-old newborn baby, whom she holds by a sling tied around her shoulders.  What kind of reactions would this spark?  Will Chairman Carl Levy allow that?  Can you imagine trying to accomplish anything under these circumstances? How about distractions? While there appears to be no precedence of such case in the U.S., Europe provided an example. Italian European Member of Parliament Licia Ronzulli brought her newborn baby to European Parliament and conducted business while nursing her.  Why did she do that? What kind of reactions did she get? The questions are endless. Here is Honorable Licia Ronzulli answering such questions:

Honorable Ronzulli, thank you for accepting my request for an interview. I wish to start by asking, how is your daughter Vittoria doing and how old is she now?
Licia Ronzulli: Thanks for your invitation! Vittoria is very well and now she is already 7 months old.

How did the idea of bringing your child to work come about and why not hire a babysitter?
Unfortunately, in the European Parliament there is no maternity leave for members. This means that every absent member during European Parliament official sessions, even for maternity reasons, will not receive allowance for being present in a session, and will not be able to justify their absence for the purpose of voting statistics as well!
I am very informal as a mother: when Vittoria was just a newborn and she could not stay without me as I nursed her, I had some very important votes during Strasbourg´s Plenary Session, in which every absence could have been crucial. So I packed my bags and flew to Strasbourg with her. Anyway, in my daily life I am not alone in taking care of Vittoria.  There’s also my recently retired mom, who helps me with her.

The photos of you with your daughter in the European Parliament attracted much attention- Why do you think that is?
Maybe a lot of people were astonished just because we are not used to seeing things like that. I do not see anything strange in it: it’s always wonderful to see a mother and her daughter together, either in the Parliament or during a walk in a park.

What was the reaction of your male colleagues initially and have they changed towards you since?
They all were kind and gentle; I received a hearty welcome regardless of their political orientation. No, nobody changed their approach towards me.

How about your female colleagues?
They were very kind too; on several occasions they expressed their solidarity with me.

You have continued to take your child with you to work.   Is that decision deliberately chosen or is it imposed by necessity?
Bringing Vittoria with me gives me self-confidence and calm, and I think it is exactly the same for her. Besides this, the Parliament agenda is very crowded, and my daughter is too young to remain without her mother for long time.

You have been working towards attracting attention to women’s rights in the workplace for quite a while but none of those efforts were as successful as your bringing your child to work.  Why do you think that is?
Unfortunately it’s like that. We work very often for months on important dossiers regarding the real interests of citizens, but we are completely ignored by the mass media. I think the shock caused by my act – I received messages from all over the world! – is due to the fact that it has become a symbol, an icon for all the mothers who try to conciliate their professional life with the choice of becoming mothers.

How are you planning to take advantage of this attention in order to advance your causes?
I will keep on supporting the rights of women, and who decide to become mothers without leaving their work place, especially now that the European Council ruled against the European Parliament proposal on the maternity leave.

European women have come a long way since the past few decades.  You now have the Swiss cabinet with a female majority though only 4 decades after winning right to vote.   That being said, there is still plenty of room for improvement.  What are some of the main demands of European women today in your opinion?
The Swiss example comes after the Norwegian, Swedish or Danish ones, who have been front-runners for years regarding female presence in Parliament. The key to obtain equal opportunities at work is to be able not to penalize women in their careers, only because they follow the natural choice to become mothers.

In many countries, women’s rights are in a pitiful state. That being said, some countries are beginning to take steps to improve the situation of women. Let me take the example of Morocco that appears to have started the process of enacting laws favoring women’s rights.  What do you think about the EU role in encouraging countries like Morocco to continue on this path and entice others to follow suit?  In general, how do you want to develop the issues about women’s rights outside the European borders?
The EU cannot oblige the developing countries to respect the fundamental rights of women, but this does not mean that we did not do anything about it. Its diplomatic activity is continuous and pressing, especially towards those countries which do not respect women’s fundamental rights. Also thanks to MEP’s denouncements.  For the time being, the death sentence for Sakineh, the Iranian woman accused of adultery, has been suspended.
Besides this, in December I went to the Democratic Republic of Congo as vice-president of ACP-UE Joint Parliamentary Assembly of Africa – Caribbean – Pacific and EU. During the official sessions, attended by the President Kabila, my dossier about the Millennium Development Goals WAS approved.
In particular, I focus attention on the situation of women and children, who are the two components of society that most suffer from situations of poverty and misery and for whom we need to increase our aid.

Thanks again for taking the time to entertain these questions. Any last words?
Thank you for your attention. I hope to come to your country as soon as possible and to have the opportunity to meet you personally in order to talk with you about the current maternity leave situation in the United States.


 


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