[WATCH] Metsola’s view on Abela’s COVID press conference: ‘Imagine had the PM been a woman’

About that MaltaToday question to Charmaine Gauci: Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola says young woman journalist was savaged online for having the temerity to ask a question

Prime Minister Robert Abela refuses to congratulate Roberta Metsola after being elected to the second most important post in the European Parliament
Prime Minister Robert Abela refuses to congratulate Roberta Metsola after being elected to the second most important post in the European Parliament

The Nationalist MEP and European Parliament vice-president Roberta Metsola has raised the online harassment of MaltaToday journalist Nicole Meilak in a debate on women’s lives under the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a live debate on the European Parliament in Malta Facebook page, Metsola commented on the treatment of women in journalism as a window on the way women in politics are also treated.

“We can see what was said about Daphne Caruana Galizia before she was murdered, or when a young woman journalist is savaged for asking a question,” Metsola said in a reference to Meilak’s question to Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci, asking her whether she should resign in the wake of rising COVID cases and political pressure on scientific advice.

Metsola was talking about the performance of Prime Minister Robert Abela during which, in a reaction to journalists’ pointed questions, admitted that he had been giving a press conference under less than ideal health conditions.

“Imagine the adjectives had the prime minister been a woman: no matter the amount of votes we get, we still need to prove ourselves every day that we are capable in our position, that we can the job as well as any man, sometimes better then them. We have to challenge stereotypes and the pressure, and it cuts across many spheres... you see it before Daphne was killed, and also the way a young woman journalist gets savaged for asking a question.”

Unlike Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar, who supported her party-in-government’s move to introduce quotasfor women in national politics, Metsola remained opposed to the proposal. “I fear we will regress with this, and that women in politics will still be seen as tokenism.”

Metsola said women faced steeper and unfair challenges, and that what they needed was a paradigm shift in political thinking and culture, to encourgae more candidates to move forward.

COVID-19’s impact on women, domestic violence, and women in business with empowerment, leadership and mental workload, were tackled in a debate on the live on European Parliament in Malta Facebook page, marking Women’s Day 2021.

Online panel

Women who stood up and stood out in COVID times were centre stage with MEPs Roberta Metsola and Josianne Cutajar.

Metsola highlighted that COVID-19 had exacerbated the gender gap as women found themselves both full-time workers and full-time carers. “This pandemic has exposed and amplified pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. It has not been the great equaliser.”

Josianne Cutajar highlighted the strength of self-employed women to carry on during the pandemic. The COVID recovery phase, she said, provides an opportunity to narrow the gender gap, but a lot more needs to done beyond it.

Both MEPs and other speakers highlighted the blight of domestic abuse. Metsola underscored what can be done, such as increasing criminal law sanctions, going after perpetrators of gender-based violence, and pushing for countries to adopt and implement the Istanbul convention.

For Cutajar, domestic violence, stress, low income, isolation, mental health issues were already adversely affecting the lives of women across the world, and Covid made worse a situation that was already a challenge for women. The European Parliament needs to work more to ensure an effective “social recovery” from this pandemic, she says.

Metsola, who has recently been elected first Vice President of the European Parliament, pointed the importance of female role models, and the need for both genders to work together to cut the gender pay gap.

Cutajar spotlighted women at the forefront of combatting the pandemic not only in healthcare, but also in business, education, community organising and ensuring the upkeep of society in the midst of the crisis.

Two panels of leading women discussed the impact of Covid in key sectors and women’s response as well as individual initiatives taken by women in civil society and education during the pandemic.  

Prof. Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, Director of the WHO Division of Country Health Policies and Systems), shared the view that COVID has not had an equal impact on men and women, as the latter must juggle home-schooling, caring, shopping and their regular jobs.  She also highlighted the mental health impact which the lockdown has had on girls and women, amplified by Dr Flavia Zimmermann, the President of EURED, a non-profit organization supporting marginalized people in challenging circumstances, who has witnessed several women facing such problems.

Dr Lara Dimitrijevic, Director of the Women’s Rights Foundation, pointed out that resources to access basic services have become harder for women.  To counter the fact that women were reaching out less during the lockdown, the Foundation set up a helpline, to support and empower women, and to give them access to as much information as possible.

The public discussion highlighted other successful initiatives and positive elements concerning women, which emerged during the pandemic.

Mariella Camilleri, President of the Business & Professional Women Malta, remarked the resilience of women, pointing to the fact that several women had taken the opportunity to start their own business.

Dana Carmont, founder of the FEMM community in Malta spoke about the ‘essential handbag’ campaign which had women in small businesses coming together to donate handbags with indispensable supplies for women who were stuggling with the ill effects of the pandemic.

The webinar also included inspiring interventions by Rebecca Caruana, author and medical student, Maja Theuma, a young paralympic swimmer and Melissa Aquilina, from the Deaf Youth Association of Malta

The discussion was opened by the Head of the European Parliament Office in Malta, Dr Mario Sammut and Ms Mikela Fenech Pace moderated.

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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