NICOLA Sturgeon has said she is “delighted” to join women leaders from around the world and discuss ways of tackling gender equality at a summit in Italy.

Scotland’s First Minister was photographed front and centre smiling alongside former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, UN climate change executive secretary Patricia Espinosa Cantellano and other leading global figures at the two-day conference.

“Delighted to join this impressive group of women in Italy over the last two days for the Global Women Leaders Summit,” Sturgeon wrote online. “An opportunity to share experiences and consider how to drive faster progress on gender equality and climate change. Thanks to @giwps and @RockefellerFdn.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon faces Tory attack for travelling to Italy amid Patrick Grady row

The First Minister was invited to the Global Women Leaders’ Summit, hosted by The Rockefeller Foundation and Georgetown Institute for Women and Peace, which has been taking place since 2017 – but was halted for two years due to the pandemic.

Sturgeon will be using her time at the conference to discuss driving gender equality, protecting women’s rights and tackling change.

The Rockefeller Foundation  said: "Despite their differences, members of Connected Women Leaders share a common and urgent vision where more women come into positions of leadership and power, and importantly, change the very nature of how power is defined and shared for the benefit of all communities.”

The National:

The SNP chief’s photo with Clinton comes after she was pictured with US president Joe Biden during COP26 in Glasgow last year - something which the Tories had reportedly vowed would not be possible.

She also appeared with US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during a trip to the States earlier this year.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

The Scottish Tories have been highly critical of Sturgeon for travelling to the Italian summit in the midst of a row over SNP MP Patrick Grady. 

Grady was found to have behaved inappropriately towards a teenage staffer in 2016. Last week, he was suspended for two days.

Over the weekend, a leaked recording revealed SNP Westminster chief Ian Blackford told his colleagues he is “very much looking forward to welcoming Patrick back”, urging MPs to offer Grady “as much support as possible”.

The Scottish Tories' chief whip at Holyrood, Stephen Kerr, tweeted: “Nicola Sturgeon is the sort of politician to fly to Italy to give a speech about protecting women, but avoid taking any action to help a victim of one of her own MPs.

“Don't forget this.”

The comments were retweeted by fellow MSP Annie Wells.