[WATCH] Academics say equality of rights cannot exist without equality of burdens

Malta ranks 16 from all EU member states in the most recent Gender Equality Index, with its top strength being the health domain, but lagging behind other member states in temrs of powerful positions

Malta ranked the highest among EU member states for equal provision of healthcare between both genders
Malta ranked the highest among EU member states for equal provision of healthcare between both genders

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We cannot have equality of rights unless we have equality of burdens, director of the University of Malta’s department for labour studies, Dr. Anna Borg said.

Speaking during a debate of the Gender Equality index for 2015, Borg pointed out that, the unequal division of care work and house work was having a negative impact on women’s ability to participate in activities like local government, and even in research that may be pivotal to obtaining further qualifications or promotions.

“In reality we still live in a society that believes it is natural for women to carry out chores like cooking and cleaning at the end of a long work day, while the husband goes out to practice a sport or to participate in other activities,” Borg said, adding that this attitude was institutionalized through a number of policies in the country.

“The government can begin by analyzing what the suggestions of having things like paternity leave limited to one day right after a child’s birth, are” she said. She explained that such initiatives gave the message that men are unnecessary to bring up children, or that it is not normal for them to stay home and take care of the family rather than the woman.

“We need to have initiatives like paid paternal leave to challenge gender roles,” she said, adding that this could encourage a more equal division of caring responsibilities.

The European Institute of Gender Equality is currently on a two day visit in Malta to meet policy makers and high representatives in government as well as NGOs to raise awareness on the gender gap in Malta and the monitoring tools which can be implemented to battle this, following the publication of the gender equality index for all member states for 2105.

The index, developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) showed that Malta is in general approaching the halfway mark towards equality, with a score of 46.8 out of 100, ranking the country at 16th place when compared to the other 28 EU member states. 

It measures equality between women and men in six core domains, namely work, money, knowledge, time, power and health, then assigns a score to each member state.

Although Malta’s overall score has increased, the country continues to fall short in the domain of power, scoring 28.3 out of 10, with women in Malta seriously lacking from decision-making positions in the political sphere, and even more so from the economic one.

One of the main reasons for this, according to the report, and according to those participating in the discussion was balancing work-life responsibilities, with women spending far more time on care, domestic tasks and social activities.

In line with Borg’s observations, the index also indicates that time has also seen the biggest decrease since 2005 (by 10.6 points), with women spending increasingly more time on care activities and little on leisure, sporting or voluntary activities.

EIGE director Virginja Langbakk explained that society very rarely stopped to think about how equality would benefit men besides women, and that the institution was striving to make these benefits clearer.

In her presentation, EIGE’s Jolanta Reingarde said that according to research, almost four times more women do cooking and housework for at least an hour every day, indicating how inequalities in the public life often overflowed into private life.

Reingarde added that data shows that although Malta had seen rises in women in full time work, they continued to hold more part-time jobs than men.

“This isn’t a problem in itself but we have to think what this is doing to financial dependence in women,” she said, adding that some 45% of women in Malta had become inactive on the employment sector because of family care, compared to 2% of men becoming inactive for the same reason in 2015.

Raingarde explained that the position and frequency of women in political decision making positions had remained the same since 2015, with men making up 72% of local council positions. She also remarked that one of the reasons women did not take up more positions in parliament was the fact that the local system meant that people could only be MPs part time.

“This ultimately means that if a woman is interested in holding such a position, then she has to have a man who is willing to take the back burner, career-wise, and spend at least evenings with their children,” gender studies professor Marceline Naudi said, reacting to the data and discussion.

NCPE representative Mario Mallia also explained that the power imbalance was of great concern, and calling it a “concrete sarcophagus”, he added that gender quotas could go a long way in establishing a presence for women in such roles.

He added that there were two ways to challenge this paradigm, through education and the structural aspect, in terms of legislation.

“The visibility of role models through directories, having more women present at media organizations can promote gender issues more effectively,” he said, adding that however, it remained central to address men and explain how such changes could benefit them, in order to achieve changes.

Nursing visiting lecturer at the University of Malta Sina Bugeja commented about the fact that Malta’s primary strength in the gender equality index had been precisely in the health domain, with the country having the highest score among all member states (95.6).

“Although the index reflects a good balance in access to health services and overall health status for both women and men, the index does not reflect mental health issues,” Bugeja said.

Some of those at the discussion also began to question whether it was possible to say there was equality in the sector in view of the absence of reproductive health facilities like the morning after pill, which in turn raised a few eyebrows at the discussion.

Chairperson of the gender issues committee, Maria Therese Camilleri Podesta also explained how difficult it could be for women to achieve promotions, taking the example of the University of Malta.

“There is a three year difference between men and women reaching a resident professor position at university,” she said, adding that the index in terms of power were very much in line with this.

“At university only 14% of professors are women, and only 27% of associate professors are women,” she said, adding that numbers tended to taper out the lower down the scale you go.

She suggested that the way promotions were given ought to be revised, given that this was based on how much research was published on peer review publications.

“I think this may be unfair due to the amount of time required for such research,” she said.

“Basing judgment on research output may be working against the promotion of women,” she said, suggesting that other factors ought to be considered besides published work, such as the contribution to teaching, attendance at voluntary boards and committees among others.

Reingarde also discussed the issues of violence against women, and stressed that this was an essential part of any discussion of gender inequality.

“Eliminating gender discrimination is an essential part of ending gender based violence,” she added.

Speaking about higher rates of gender violence in societies with higher gender equality, were a result of women feeling more comfortable speaking out and disclosing their experiences due to zero-tolerance policies.

She explained that a Eurobarometer study had revealed that in Malta some 3% of the population still believed it was normal to beat women from time to time.

“Malta is progressing fast, but there is room for improvement in the economic empowerment and independence of women, the division of care work between men and women and the unequal presentation in decision making positions,” she said.

She went on to explain that the whole notion of care work ought to be revised if society still believed that it was only women who were capable of doing that sort of job.

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