Judge Paola Di Nicola talks to Time for Equality

Paola Di Nicola, judge and author of “La giudice. Una donna in magistratura”, was interviewed in Luxembourg by Rosa Brignone. 

Read the interview in English here (edited text):

Ms Di Nicola, we are delighted to have you in Luxembourg at an event organised by Altrimenti Cultura and Time for Equality in order to present your experience as a judge in Italy and your book La giudice. We have just heard an interesting discussion with Romanian judge Camelia Toader, a member of the Court of Justice of the EU which is based in Luxembourg. Yesterday you met the Italian pupils at the European Secondary School. First of all, let’s talk about the woman Paola Di Nicola: how did you get to be a judge?

My story is quite simple and ordinary: as a teenager I lived through the terrorism that Italy was then experiencing. At that time my father was a judge, which was how I came to know many judges, some of whom later died as victims of the Mafia and terrorism. From a human point of view this experience made such a strong impression on me that I decided to become a judge as well. My professional experience has been very intense, involving a high degree of motivation. When I joined the judiciary, precisely because of my personal and family experience I didn’t expect that there could be a difference between men and women; the black robes and the impartiality of administering justice require all of us to exercise our profession irrespective of our gender. This was my conviction, but after 20 years of professional experience in the field, I’ve had to acknowledge that this was an intellectual conviction which is not reflected in reality.

So after 20 years of professional experience you’ve looked back at your career and discovered some details that reveal how gender makes a difference. Can you tell us about a specific episode in which you felt the importance of the gender dimension in your profession?

There are so many examples: they began on the first day, at my first court hearing, and have continued ever since. The main episode is undoubtedly my first day as a member of the judiciary when, together with a male colleague who had passed the exam with me, I met the head of my new judicial office. He asked my colleague about his professional skills, his interests and his articles, while I was asked whether I was married and whether I intended to have children; my CV, my motivation, my interest in working in labour law or criminal law were ignored. At that moment I felt as if I’d been slapped and wasn’t acknowledged in my institutional role; and this was only the first day. The second episode that I can share with you goes back to one of the earliest hearings that I conducted, when I was younger. I was in court, with legal codes and files in front of me, the maxim “The law applies equally to all” was behind me and I was obviously the only person in the room who could be the judge. A lawyer said to me, “Girl, let’s call a judge”, refusing to recognise me publicly in my institutional role, just because I was a woman.

These are indeed very revealing examples. So how have you managed to create your model of a female judge? Is there a difference between the male judge (a neutral figure) and the female judge, as you suggest in the title of your book?

With considerable effort: in our professional environment, as in all centres of power where women have risen to the top, they tend to conform to the male model, assuming men’s features, including physical features, through the way they dress, tone of voice, aggressiveness and, most importantly, language. They talk about themselves in the masculine form, referring to themselves without using the female article “La” before the title “Judge”, as if the masculine form provides a kind of seal of approval to ensure institutional recognition. At a certain point in my professional life, when I became fully aware of this gender “boundary” (considered as such by others), I decided to explore the richness stemming from the fact that I belong to this gender. I’m a woman and the very fact that I am means that I also bring with me into the judiciary the history of women’s exclusion from the function of administering justice. I’d like to remind you that women were banned from the judiciary in Italy until 1963, and just yesterday I learned that there were no female judges in Spain until 1975. Why should this be? Because women have long been excluded from the administration of justice, a position of power par excellence, the place where the law is interpreted.

Your book was published in September 2012 and sold 3000 copies in just a few months, a great success for a book belonging to the genre of narrative non-fiction. This prompts the thought that many people identify with the issue that you have raised. Do you think that gender, in environments associated with the exercise of power such as the judiciary, is a European or even global issue, or is it specifically Italian?

First of all I’d like to thank Altrimenti bookshop and your Association (Time for Equality) for inviting me, and my thanks go to you yourself for the intelligence and sensitivity to grasp that the problem that I describe in my book goes beyond the situation in Italy. Thanks to the series of meetings organised in Luxembourg I’ve been able to learn, through what the Judge at the European Court of Justice (Camelia Toader) told us, about the Romanian and European contexts, and also the situation in so many other countries as a result of contributions from the many people, from Spain, France, and so on, who came to the discussion. All the women who I have talked to have told me that they identify themselves with my experience. For me, this confirms that the problem is deep-rooted and crosses national borders. The book’s interest is obviously not my personal experience, but the fact that by writing it I’m bringing to light a reality that is difficult to accept in 2013. It’s difficult to acknowledge that a gender question still exists today: “question” being understood as the failure to recognise the richness of differences, as prejudice against women which is an international phenomenon and touches every profession.

During the discussions and the conversations after the events the subject of stereotypes often came up and question arose of what we can do to change things. If you had to give a positive message based on your experience and on the meetings that you’ve had at the many presentations of your book in Italy, and now in the heart of Europe, what would the message be?

It would be the same message that I shared yesterday with the Italian pupils at the European School of Luxembourg: believe in yourselves and in your abilities, don’t be prisoners of gender stereotypes that prevent you from expressing your internal riches, your emotions and your wonderful differences. When you manage to free yourselves from this straitjacket that society and culture still force you into, when you are free to be yourselves, that will be the day when we can say that we are all free at last.

Thank you very much, Ms Di Nicola, for coming here to Luxembourg.

Thank you for offering me this wonderful opportunity.



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