Italian Mafia Sees Rise of Girl Power

ByABC News
June 20, 2001, 11:03 AM

June 20 -- Growing up the daughter of a Mafia boss in post-World War II southern Italy, Maria Licciardi probably looked forward to a life of stoic, tight-lipped loyalty to her macho menfolk.

But a quiet gender revolution in the Italian Mafia has seen women shatter the glass ceiling of organized crime, as an increasing number of women take on the top job for some of Italy's major crime clans.

The penetration of women into the highest levels of one of the world's most patriarchal social institutions has caught the eye of Italian media and experts as well as crime statisticians. In 1990, one woman was indicted for Mafia association. By 1995, there were 89 such indictments.

And so, by June 15, when Licciardi was arrested near Naples, the 50-year-old matriarch apparently had risen high enough on the crime pecking order to make it into Italy's dreaded list of 30 most-wanted criminals.

Short, dark-haired and dressed in a simple yellow sundress when the police finally caught up with her, Licciardi or la Madrina (the Godmother), as she is popularly called seemed to be a dowdier Mafiosa sister of Erminia Giuliano, who allegedly operated a mob syndicate from Naples.

When she was arrested last December, Giuliano refused to follow the police out of her home until a beautician was summoned to perfect her coiffure and adorn her in a leopard print coat and stiletto heels. This uncompromising sartorial style was much appreciated by the media and local gossips.

Rise of Girl Power

Liccardi and Giuliano or Celeste as she is known, because of her celestial blue eyes are just two in a spate of recent arrests in the pantheon of Mafia women, authorities say.

In June 1999, Sicilian police arrested Concetta Scalisi, an alleged "godmother" wanted for three murders, in her hideout on the slopes of Mount Etna, Sicily. She reportedly slashed her hands and belly with broken glass in the hope of being sent to a hospital.

From resilient matriarchs impassively doling out pasta between chanting novenas for the safety of their menfolk, to pistol-packing mamas clinching drug deals, negotiating syndicates and ordering executions, girl power in the Italian mob has come a long way.