Giorgia Meloni Italy politics sexism
Pregnant Italian politician Giorgia Meloni is standing for mayor in Rome after male politicians including Silvio Berlusconi said she should stay at home REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

A right wing Italian politician has announced her candidacy for one of the country's most important political posts: Mayor of Rome, after male politicians – including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – made sexist comments because she is pregnant. Another candidate said she should stick to breastfeeding rather than take on the job.

Meloni, who is leader of the Brothers of Italy party, had been considering whether to stand for mayor for some time. However a number of comments made by male politicians prompted her to throw her hat into the ring. Silvio Berlusconi, himself no stranger to controversy, said his former protege should stay at home because of her condition.

"A mother cannot be mayor," the three-time prime minister said. "Being mayor means being in your office 14 hours a day. I don't think this could be the right choice for Meloni."

Berlusconi call me maybe
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said a pregnant woman should not be mayor of Rome Reuters

Berlusconi's choice for the job is fellow right winger Guido Bertolaso, who also appeared to believe a pregnant woman would not be able to cope with being mayor of Rome. "I don't see why someone should force her to do a ferocious election campaign and take care of potholes and dirtiness while she is breastfeeding," said Bertolaso.

However Meloni insisted that it was not up to men to decide what she was able to do and pointed out that Rome's symbol is of a she-wolf nursing twins. "What I strongly believe is that no man can tell a woman what she can and cannot do during her pregnancy," said Meloni.

A few days before Meloni was attacked for not wanting to be a stay-at-home mum, another female politician withdrew from the race to be mayor of Milan after facing criticism for being a stay-at-home mum. Patrizia Bedori said she was called "ugly, fat and obese" and dismissed as a "housewife."

Responding on Facebook, Bedori said: "There are millions of housewives in Italy and it is thanks to them – your mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends – that every day devote their time with dedication to family ... and take on a whole series of tasks for which the state has failed, like the care of the elderly, that Italy is standing."

Health minister Beatrice Lorenzin said: "This country is not for women. What is happening these days is incredible, it reveals an underlying misogyny."