Decision-making roles still a male prerogative | Graziella Attard Previ

Far from the rights which are entrenched in laws, often, the everyday lives of most women are fraught with inequalities

Women’s Day brings mixed reactions: at one end of the spectrum it is a celebration of what women have achieved, at times, painstakingly over many decades; at the other end, it’s that the existence of such a day is a reinforcement of the stereotype that being female automatically denotes an inferior status.

Women’s Day is a commemoration of the journey for more equality between the sexes. The underlying premise for equality is equal opportunities, and in our world that means educational opportunities. The very first Maltese university graduate was Tessie Camilleri who, in 1922, graduated B.Litt. Over the years, the number of female graduates increased slowly. By the early 1970s, one-fifth of graduates were female. 1991 marked a new era: for the very first time, the number of female graduates surpassed the number of male graduates. This trend has been sustained.

Although these statistics are significant and very encouraging, the true test for educational opportunities cannot be measured solely by the number of graduates. The formative early years in a student’s life impact the whole educational journey. Educationally disadvantaged students need to be supported from the very start, before differences in opportunities diverge. Such students include young girls from socio-economic backgrounds which replicate traditional gender roles or which hamper a young girl’s educational potential. The educational system still has a long way to go to ensure that the silent voices of young girls from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds are elicited.

Women are notoriously known for being multi-taskers; working outside and inside the home, organising and managing not only their personal daily schedules, but also of dependent children and other adults. In most families, women are the primary care-givers attending to the basic physical needs such as food and clean clothes and a clean home, and feeding the psychological needs such as being loved and being cared for. This is an important role and it should be recognised as such, however it should not be an albatross around a woman’s neck. Far from the rights which are entrenched in laws, often, the everyday lives of most women are fraught with inequalities. Many women complain about the unequal sharing of domestic responsibilities and chores.

The recent study by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) on the distribution of work in households during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that women are spending more time on household chores and caring for children and other dependent adults than men. On the other hand, women are spending less time on personal care and on leisure activities. The findings indicate that the pandemic has reinforced the traditional gender stereotypes. There are many lessons which need to be unlearnt – domestic chores should not be automatically solely assigned to a female; sharing and communication are key. Role models in textbooks and on social media, including both explicit and covert educational messages can go a long way to eradicate gender stereotypes.

The NSO’s News Release of last year’s Women’s Day provides a snapshot of where women in Malta stand. Data which revealed dismal results in terms of gender equality index, high number of females likely to be at-risk-of-poverty, an employment gender gap of 20% and a gender pay gap of 11.7%. These statistics reveal a worrying situation which is both the cause and the effect of gender inequality. Gender equality is not possible without financial equality. Furthermore, statistics also show that although there are more female professionals than males, the percentage of males in managerial roles is higher than that of females. Decision-making roles are still a male prerogative in Malta. A multi-pronged approach is needed to address this inequality which should be spearheaded by the government. The government has the resources to do this, and unless it is a feminist government in name only, this inequality should be addressed imminently.

Women’s Day will serve its true purpose when the need to celebrate such a day is gone. We can hope that one day, gender will no longer be a determining factor when choosing what to celebrate. Till then, Women’s Day will be a reminder and a motivator for all of us, of our obligation to fight gender discrimination in all its forms, for the benefit of women and for the benefit of the whole society.

Graziella Attard Previ is president of Moviment Nisa Partit Nazzjonalista