For the second time running, Malta has elected the same number of women as men to the European Parliament, raising questions as to whether the government’s push for gender quotas may be a futile exercise.
This is not to say that our local parliament does not have a severe gender disparity, with Malta routinely ranking the lowest in the EU for female parliamentary representation.
However, with Miriam Dalli and Roberta Metsola receiving the most first count votes of their respective parties and Josianne Cutajar becoming the youngest MEP and first Gozitan ever elected, is the way the public votes the real issue behind the disparity?
With the consultation period for legislation designed to address gender imbalances in parliament coming to a close, Lovin Malta contacted the three female MEPs get their take on the issue
Josianne Cutajar: “Let us not allow this success to distort perceptions”
“It’s important to clarify that the reform is focusing on a set of positive measures and not quotas.
The ‘Consultation Document on Gender Balance in Parliament’ focuses on a package of four measures. In synergy, these proposals aim to jump-start the system to achieve gains in short time-frames. Women’s representation in the Maltese Parliament has not increased significantly in 70 years, and Malta keeps slipping down international UPI rankings. We are far from achieving the 33% critical mass where it is more likely for women to get elected on their own steam. This constitutes a democratic deficit.
Positive measures, which were already successfully employed elsewhere in Europe, are a Labour Party electoral pledge. They are necessary to redress the imbalance in the national Parliament, where representation is currently the highest ever at 14%.
The proposed measures put the onus on Parliament, on political parties and on the Electoral Commission to work towards gender balance. Up to now, the blame for under-representation was merely put on women.
The success of MEPs Miriam Dalli, Roberta Metsola and myself and the sheer amount of votes we obtained, reinforce our argument that Maltese electors do vote for women. Voters are more likely to choose women when these manage to break the glass ceiling and when there is an adequate number of female candidates who are motivated to contest and hence the proposed structural changes.
This also augurs that reform in Malta is likely to bring fast changes and so positive measures may not be required for long. It was merely in 2013 that women were first elected in the European Parliament through casual elections (Roberta Metsola replaced Simon Busuttil; Claudette Abela Baldacchino and Marlene Mizzi replaced Louis Grech and Edward Scicluna). Since then, women have never looked back, and they now gain their seat on their own steam.
Still, we need to remember that the European Elections are different from national elections. The 50:50 balance is very fragile indeed, and it is easily tipped/overturned because of the low number of MEPs – a total of 6 in number. Let us not allow this success to distort perceptions regarding measures that are required to ensure balanced female representation in Malta.”
Josianne Cutajar formed part of the committee that authored the consultation document.
Roberta Metsola: “Quotas is a 1990 answer to a 2020 question”
“Much has been said and written about gender quotas in politics and in the boardrooms. The notion of quota-imposed token women does not help our cause. It is a 1990 answer to a 2020 question. It merely creates new barriers for the next generation of women to overcome. The danger is that they’re used to paper over the cracks and hide the underlying issue. They do not create a real level playing field.
What we need is a real paradigm shift in thinking and in culture. This is one part of much broader changes that are needed – from giving the possibility to have full-time politicians, to ensuring Parliament sits during normal hours, to addressing the overly aggressive nature of our political discourse and more.
I have always said, we need political parties to do more, much more, to encourage female candidates to put themselves forward and we need companies to do more to ensure women are given all the same opportunities.
We’ve shown that if given the choices voters will back female candidates, we need to make sure that choice is there, but our representatives in politics and in the boardroom must be chosen based on votes and merit, not gender. We cannot and should not escape from that principle.
Only then can we all be able to see, what should be self-evident, that a woman’s place is truly wherever she wants it to be”
Miriam Dalli: “There are no single, clear-cut solutions”
“As a result of the past MEP election, both genders will be fairly representing Maltese society in a European context. This does not mean that our work regarding gender representation is done. We are far from achieving gender equality in politics, and there are no single, clearcut solutions.
Unfortunately, we have been aware of the problem for much longer than we have been actively seeking solutions. This is why measures are needed to kickstart a series of initiatives that will lead to a proper representation of Maltese society.
I do agree that a lack of representation of women on candidature lists is one of the most tangible problems. So much so that I have spearheaded the Labour Party’s ‘Lead’ initiative, aimed at introducing women to the political world and at getting constituents to know them and their viewpoints well ahead of any election.
My aim is to keep working towards having more Maltese and Gozitan women who are ready to submit their names as potential leaders in the political world.”
Questions sent to Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia were unanswered by the time of publication.