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Evarist Bartolo

Beyond the numbers

Evarist Bartolo writes: We view genders as equals. The laws have changed and a lot of progress followed. Doors opened and we finally live in a situation where opportunities are there for all to take

evarist_bartolo
Evarist Bartolo
30 August 2017, 7:30am
Gender equality has been achieved on paper, but we must work to achieve it in practice.
Gender equality has been achieved on paper, but we must work to achieve it in practice.
Over the past years we’ve achieved a great deal in terms of gender equality. Fifty years ago it was a male-dominated society, which meant the husband was the dominating force within a family. He provided ‘food on the table’ and ‘took care’ of things. The woman was always seen as the mother.

This has changed dramatically. We view genders as equals. The laws have changed and a lot of progress followed. Doors opened and we finally live in a situation where opportunities are there for all to take. Over the past four years, through initiatives such as the free childcare scheme, we have continued helping families finding the right balance between work and their own responsibilities. Many women have opted to return to employment, and provide for their families. Others have chosen to take up an educational programme, which will help them with their skills.

There were other initiatives which were crucial in achieving this goal, such as the free breakfast club and the improvement in the Klabb 3-16 after-hours programme.

A lot has been made about the economic need of having more active labour, but I’d rather focus on the individual. On the opportunities being provided and the fulfilment of one’s potential. Of course, this helps the economy but how positive it is that no potential is left untapped, or that there is at least the opportunity to flourish. In hindsight, it was a long time coming.

Some might have the perception that all is well, but difficulties are still there. A recent Eurostat report shows that we still have a long way to go. A study on young people who are neither in employment nor in education and training (NEET) shows that 8.1% of males between the ages of 20-24 are NEETs. The women’s rate is slightly higher at 10.1%. These figures are among Europe’s lowest, and that is positive. If you compare the ages of 30-34, the male total is 15.8%. This is quite high, but still well below the EU average.

However, in the female 30-34 category the rate skyrockets to 28.3%. This is well above the EU average, and almost double the rate of men in the same age group. What we have is almost a third of females in their early thirties who are completely inactive. Some of those in that grouping might have taken a conscious decision, and that’s alright. But I suspect another batch of those simply had no alternative.

At a time when education achievement is higher than in men, young women should not get the necessary skills, start work and then find life shutting the door in their faces, considering the rate is low in their twenties, but jumps up as it reaches the early thirties.

We are not the only ones facing these challenges. The UK rate is not too far off from ours, and we’re light years away from the figures in other countries such as Italy and Greece, which top at over 42%. But we must continue working to build up incentives and provide opportunities to young women and help them reach their potential.

This is why the introduction of more flexible childcare centres is very important, while we continue working hard to improve educational standards there. It is also why the introduction of a day off for public holidays that fall on weekends is also important – people are working more hours than ever before, and the right balance must be achieved. Family time is just as important and we must not slide into a society that sees work and employment as the only important element in one’s life. A balance can and should be the priority.

At the same time we have to continue to open doors for those who want to continue working. Gender equality has been achieved on paper, but we must work to achieve it in practice. From pay gaps to opportunities for senior roles, there is still a lot of road to make up. Knowing where we stand is the first step.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment