Rosianne Cutajar during a recent Times Talk interview
By all accounts, Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar should be a role model for women seeking to enter the male-dominated realm of Maltese politics.
She was only 23 when she was elected mayor of Ħal Qormi, one of the island’s largest towns, in the 2012 local council election, making her the youngest female mayor in Maltese history. She then followed up her success when she was elected to Parliament last year, making her the youngest serving MP and the youngest ever female MP since former President Agatha Barbara.
And yet, Cutajar is currently making headlines for libel suits she filed against a retired auditor and an Occupy Justice activist over Facebook comments mocking her as a prostitute.
“If I’m vociferous in my arguments it doesn’t give you a right to call me a whore,” the young MP explained in a Times Talk interview. “Say you disagree with me, call me ignorant if you wish. But don’t call me a whore because that’s sexism… I’ve faced this abuse since 2012.”
The debate over this controversy is predictably being fought over party lines, a reverse to a similar controversy that erupted last year when government consultant former GWU head Tony Zarb likened a group of Occupy Justice activists to prostitutes.
People on ‘Team Rosianne’ are accusing others of hypocrisy for not condemning these misogynistic comments as vociferously as they had condemned Zarb’s. Meanwhile, others are pointing their fingers at Cutajar and her supporters for not having extended the same level of solidarity to the Occupy Justice activists, as well as Il-Kenniesa activist Tina Urso and the murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia when they too were targeted with vicious misogynistic language.
Basically, everyone is a hypocrite and partisanship has once again triumphed as the great neutraliser.
But where does this frustrating debate leave young women who are considering a political future? At the risk of ‘mansplaining’, I would fathom a guess that it will, at the very least, make them think twice about their career paths. After all, why enter politics when you know you will be dismissed and mocked as a whore the moment some people think you have stepped out of line? Why enter politics when you know you will have to spend time firefighting derogatory comments sparked by your gender?
Make no mistake about it; this is a major problem for Malta.
The country currently only has 10 women MPs, making Malta the worst in Europe and one of the worst in the world when it comes to female political representation. The likes of Russia, Turkey, Libya and even North Korea also do better than us when it comes to women in Parliaments… think about that.
Malta’s issue isn’t that voters spurn women on the electoral list but that political parties, for some reason, find it extremely hard to find enough women to contest elections. Indeed, out of the 377 candidates from last year’s election, only 42 were women – a measly 11% and a worse percentage than the 2013 election.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has proposed a temporary gender quota system to push up the numbers, but this has, at the very best, received a lukewarm response from women politicians. MEPs Roberta Metsola and Miriam Dalli have warned quotas will risk tokenising women, while Cutajar herself has said she was initially “dead-set” against the proposal and only grew to accept it because “something has to be done”.
To their credit, the political parties have upped their game in attracting women candidates.
The Labour Party’s LEAD academy for aspiring women politicians has proved a roaring success, while the PN’s Future Leaders youth academy recently showed it is reaping fruit when 15-year-old Eve Borg Bonello delivered a rousing speech that belied her young years. The potential for a much more gender-equal Parliament without quotas is there; we now just need to harness it.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge believer of free speech.
I think Maltese politicians are, by and large, way too sensitive and it irks me whenever I see people in public life kicking up a storm and putting on their martyr robes whenever they spot a nasty Facebook comment. However, there are lines that should never be crossed and we shouldn’t require the courts to tell us that delegitimising women through obvious sexual connotations is wrong. Surely Malta can do better than this in 2019.