Thematic Fact sheet: Women and the Judiciary in Italy

Thematic Fact sheet: Women and the Judiciary in Italy

When I joined the Judiciary, almost 20 years ago, I did not know our history, I did not believe at all that this was a profession closed to women through a conscious choice, not only by those who write the laws but by society as a whole, to exclude them1. (Review).

The entry of women into the judiciary

The entry of women into the judiciary in Italy dates back to 1963, when Law No 66 laid down rules for “the admission of women to public offices and the professions”2. The first competitive examination open to female candidates was launched in May that year, and eight candidates out of 187 were found suitable (the competitive examination was for 200 posts).

Until then, Article 7 of Law No 1176 of 17 July 1919 (repealed by Article 2 of Law No 66/1963) allowed women to practise the professions in public office, but expressly excluded them from dispensing justice:

Women are allowed to practise all professions and to fill all public positions on an equal footing with men, excluding only, save where expressly permitted by law, those entailing public judicial authority or the exercise of political power and rights, or those relating to the military defence of the State in accordance with the specification that will be made by appropriate regulations3.

In 1947, the Constituent Assembly had to decide whether or not to recognise women’s right to pursue the activity of judge. Many contributions to the debate revealed deeply ingrained prejudices:

“A woman must remain the queen of the house; the further away she is from the family the more it crumbles. With all due respect to the intellectual capacity of women, I have the impression that they are not suitable for the difficult art of judging. This requires great balance and sometimes this balance is lacking in them for physiological reasons. This is my opinion: women should stay at home.” (Antonio Romano)

These were the views voiced in the Assembly, views which represented a culture that identified women with their bodies and their reproductive functions and confined them to the domestic sphere.

Despite this, and despite the limited number of women members (only 4%), the Assembly chose to remain silent on this specific issue, establishing in Article 51 that “all citizens of either sex are eligible for public offices on equal terms, in accordance with the requirements established by law.”

As Judge Di Nicola aptly observes, this “mediation” was achieved only when the Assembly, after rejecting the proposed amendment in favour of allowing women to join the judiciary, “looking forward and fearing that this position could in the future be interpreted as an intention to bar women’s access to the judiciary”4, decided not to decide, deferring the choice to future laws.

It took 15 years from the Constitution’s entry into force for Parliament to pass a specific law, Law No 66 of 9 February 1963, allowing women access to all public offices, professions and positions, including the judiciary. Meanwhile, 16 competitive examinations had been held for judicial hearing officers, from which women had been improperly excluded.

The first fifty years

The  “Women in the Judiciary”, by professor Anna Maria Istasia, was presented on the occasion of the conference “Women in the Judiciary. 1963-2013: 50 years later”, jointly organized by the equal opportunities committees of the National Associations of Magistrates (ANM) and the Association of Italian Female Magistrates (ADMI).

“Donne in Magistratura” is an interesting historical research on the first twenty years of ADMI’s activities. Since 1992 the association has been focusing on the gender perspective in the judiciary, in order to overcome the conformity to the male judge model and to build a new gender identity. The author highlights how even now, 50 years since women were granted the access to the judiciary, mechanisms of exclusion still remain. This results in a lack of democracy for the judiciary institution, and keeps female judges in a sphere of near-invisibility as they climb to the top positions and decision-making levels of the judiciary. The research is, at the same time, a call for women to influence the organization of society with their own independent contribution of ideas and projects, necessary for the full realization of the principle of equality and for a real and radical change.

Link to Annamaria Cancellieri’s speech at the conference “The First Fifty Years of Women in the judiciary: Prospects for the Future”: 

The current situation

Starting with the first competitive entrance examination, women’s access to the judiciary was initially on a modest scale, amounting to an average of 4-5% for each examination; it then increased gradually in the 1970s and 1980s, soaring to 58% in 2009.

Currently, 4006 out of 8678 judges are women, a figure of 46%, and they will soon be in the majority if the trend of far more women than men passing the competition continues.

The current gender breakdown, according to the Centre for Equal Opportunities of the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura (Supreme Council of the Judiciary), can be described using the geometric shape of a pyramid with a wide base and an extremely sharp point. While the presence of women among serving judges has been growing steadily for years, at the top of the pyramid the number of women diminishes considerably, raising the question of the so-called “glass ceiling”.

“In 2010 only 12 out of 153 court presidents were women (1.8%), and of the 158 chief public prosecutors only 11 (7%) were women; within just two years the number of women supervisors of judicial offices has almost doubled, to 18%, while the figure is now 11% for public prosecutors’ offices. There are currently three female chamber presidents at the Court of Cassation (out of 44) and 59 counsellors (out of 230)”5.

Giuseppina Casella, member of CSM – Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, talks about the presence of women in the judiciary in Italy:



Paola Di Nicola’s perspective

An idea of equality emerges from Di Nicola’s story which is far from obvious, which does not coincide with the elimination of these differences, but which gains additional momentum and richness from them. In the interview given to Time For Equality, Di Nicola reiterates how even today there is a “gender issue”, interpreted as a lack of recognition of that enrichment.

On the contrary, it seems impossible not to recognise the enrichment stemming from the differences if we consider the far-reaching transformation brought about by the entry of women into the judiciary; unfortunately, there is still no in-depth debate on this.

Gabriella Luccioli6, in the afterword, writes: “The testimony Paola Di Nicola offers in these pages is that of a well-rounded judge, who accepts with pride and dignity the value of diversity not as a value “against”, but as an essential style, not only to make her presence and that of other women in the judiciary visible and autonomous, but also to enable men finally to free themselves from the heavy role that historically sets them as a paradigm and model for the other gender” (pp. 170-171).


1 Paola Di Nicola, La Giudice. Una donna in magistratura, Ghena, Roma, 2004, p. 41.

2 Law n. 66 of 9 February1963, Ammissione della donna ai pubblici uffici e alle professioni.

3 art. 7  Law n. 1176 of 17 July 1919.

4 Paola Dicola, La Giudice, cit., p. 51.

5 Ivi, p. 101.



Donne in magistratura: una relazione di Pina Casella, in Diritto e Diritti, October 2003

Gabriella Luccioli, La presenza delle donne nella magistratura italiana, Centenario A.N.M. – 25 June 2009

Anna Maria Istasia, Donne in Magistratura-Associazione Donne Magistrato Italiane – ADMI, Dibatte edit, 2013

Luigi Ricci, La rappresentanza femminile nell’avvocatura e nella magistratura, 30 January 2013, Le Formiche

Comitato per le Pari Opportunità del Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura

Tables – CSM


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