Did gender quotas election punish women candidates?

Just four women were elected during the 2022 general election but a deeper analysis also shows that women contesting on the Labour ticket obtained almost 20,000 first-count votes, which compares very well with the 14,000 first preferences obtained in 2017

Four women were elected during the 2022 general election: Miriam Dalli, Julia Farrugia Portelli, Alison Zerafa Civelli and Graziella Galea
Four women were elected during the 2022 general election: Miriam Dalli, Julia Farrugia Portelli, Alison Zerafa Civelli and Graziella Galea

Just four women were elected during the 2022 general election – a disappointing result considering the push for more female representation in parliament had been a major talking point over the last five years.

While parliament will end up with at least 20 women due to the casual elections and the implementation of the gender corrective mechanism, which take place next week, questions have surfaced as to why the result was, in fact worse than 2017, which had seen eight women MPs elected.

Analysing the 2022 results, University of Malta pro-rector Prof. Carmen Sammut – who was part of the team that drafted the gender quotas law – said that she had expected the results  as a number of established women on both sides did not run.

Notably, prominent faces from both the Labour and PN did not run in the 2022 general elections, such as Helena Dalli, Therese Comodini Cachia, Kristy Debono, Marthese Portelli, Marlene Farrugia and Justyne Caruana, all of which were elected on their own steam back in 2017.

Prof. Sammut said this could have been a contributing factor to the poor showing of women candidates as many of these established figures who the electorate had voted for were not on the ballot.

“However not all is lost. as casual elections should see more women elected to parliament as well as the gender corrective mechanism.

“After looking at the women who have already been elected, we begin to look at the percentage of quota they have earned in each district and make a list. Those with the highest percentage of the quota will be eligible to take a seat in parliament.

“The mere fact that there will be enough women to participate in parliamentary committees is already great progress for me. Before you would have situations such as the parliamentary health committee where they would be discussing issues such as IVF, the morning after and other things, and there would be not a single woman at the table,” she explained.

Recently-elected minister Miriam Dalli said that while, at first glance, it would appear very few women made it through straight away, the casual elections must take place before a comparison with the 2017 elections can truly be made.

“A deeper analysis shows that the women who contested on the PL ticket obtained almost 20,000 first-count votes, which compares very well with the 14,000 first preferences obtained by women PL candidates in 2017,” Dalli said.

Dalli said this showed that the number of PL voters whose first preference was a female candidate had actually gone up by 43%. “This despite the fact that 12 out of our 16 female candidates contested the general elections for the very first time.”

Dalli, who will now be heading the energy and environment portfolio and a €700 million urban parks project, said that although only four female candidates made it past the post – Dalli, incumbent Julia Farrugia Portelli and Bormla mayor Alison Zerafa Civelli from Labour and Graziella Galea from the PN – it was worth noting that three other female candidates achieved very solid results with first count preferences exceeding 1,000 votes.

“We knew from day one that things were not going to change overnight. As we wait for the casual elections, the culture change that we have been pushing for to see more women in leadership positions has started to bear fruit as more voters are choosing to vote for women.”

Dalli said the gender mechanism was one of the tools that will help strengthen representation in the highest institution of our country by giving visibility to capable women who will have the opportunity to work and deliver.

However, not everyone shares the minister’s optimism that the gender corrective mechanism is the way forward.

PN candidate and former deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg, who failed to be re-elected this time around, said the gender mechanism could be one of the reasons why more women weren’t elected.

Buttigieg, who will herself avail of the gender mechanism to get into parliament this time around, said that while she voted in favour of the mechanism, she had warned that this scenario was likely to. hapen if the right precautions weren’t put into place.

“One problem we may face with this mechanism is that people will think that they do not need to vote for women as they will be elected with this mechanism. Our aim should be that we do not make use of this mechanism despite it being there, and that is when we can say that we have made it. The mechanism is there in the chance we fail,” Buttigieg had said during a speech in parliament in January 2021.

“I don’t want to stand here and say I told you so,” she now told MaltaToday. “But what I feared would happen has come to fruition. We needed a national campaign to tell people to vote for women and explain the mechanism properly.”

Buttigieg also highlighted that there were not enough women contesting on either side – the PN had 17 women candidates, while Labour had 16. “What would have been more effective was to put into place laws to force parties to have a certain number of female candidates,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg argued that from what she saw from the PN’s numbers, voters were giving women candidates the last choice, which she attributed to the fact that the gender mechanism was not explained well. “A silver lining that the PN should elect more women could make it through the casual elections: Janice Chetcuti, Rebekah Cilia and even Graziella Attard Previ are up for a chance,” she said.

However, Buttigieg said that doesn’t change the fact that because of the poor showing of women candidates, Malta’s cabinet is once again lacking representation. Out of Prime Minister Robert Abela’s 18-person cabinet of ministers, only two are women, Miriam Dalli and Julia Farrugia Portelli.

Newly-elected MP Alison Zerafa Civelli was also made a parliamentary secretary. At the same time, the PM has also said that after the gender mechanism, two more women will be appointed to the executive.

Buttigieg also said that more needed to be done to help women get into politics, such as making parliament full time. “I wouldn’t make it obligatory as I understand that is not the ideal situation for everyone; however, it would help more women be able to enter politics, as it being part-time is a much bigger hindrance for women than it is for men,” she said.

Women’s Rights Foundation director Lara Dimitrijevic, also one of the co-writers of the gender quotas law, said that she believed that not enough was done by political parties to entice and attract women.

“During the snapshot campaign, women were little to be seen. The mode of campaigning has today become very costly. While a vegetable truck and a corner meeting worked well in the past, today there is heavy competition to organise expensive and costly events,” she said.

Dimitrijevic said that women continued to be disadvantaged in this aspect, which further showed that effort and support has to come from the political parties.

Another issue, Dimitrijevic pointed out, was the hate that women in politics continue to receive. “It is no easy feat to constantly be exposed to criticism and even worse, hate and degrading comments,” she said.

“This is the first election we have had with the mechanism which will certainly make more women visible in parliament. However, this cannot stop here unless all family-friendly measures are introduced. If done correctly and properly, then one can truly comment on whether such mechanism has succeeded,” Dimitrijevic said.

Dimitrijevic said that more needed to be done to address gender disparity in politics, “apart from the introduction of family-friendly measures, a parties commitment to attract and support  women, there also needs to be awareness-raising on the importance of having women in politics.”