Gender quotas risk tokenising women, MEPs Metsola and Dalli warn

'Gender quotas risk reducing women to mere tokens' - MEPs Roberta Metsola and Miriam Dalli voice concern over Prime Minister's proposal

MEPs Roberta Metsola and Miriam Dalli have warned the gender quotas could tokenise women
MEPs Roberta Metsola and Miriam Dalli have warned the gender quotas could tokenise women

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola and Labour MEP Miriam Dalli have sounded strong warnings against Joseph Muscat’s proposal for a gender quota system to boost the number of female MPs.

Speaking at a Q&A session at the University organised by JEF Malta, Metsola warned that gender quotas risk having a reverse effect of the intention of full equality, with women treated as mere tokens.

“For example, Norwegian law requires every public listed company to have at least one woman on their boards. However, this led to the rise of ‘golden skirts’ [women who have become multiple board directors]  and indeed one Norwegian woman sat on the board of 90 companies. That would be the reverse effect of what we seek to achieve, which is a truly balanced situation.”

Instead, she suggested that political parties impose gender quotas on their own candidates from every district, thereby ensuring that 50% of all candidates are women.

Meanwhile, Labour MEP Miriam Dalli admitted she is torn over the issue, arguing that while there are too few female MPs in the Maltese Parliament, the imposition of gender quotas risks tokenizing female MPs.

“Yes, gender quotas have had a positive impact in some Scandinavian countries but there remains a concern that women who get elected through quotas will be considered lower, as though they weren’t capable of getting elected on their own steam,” she said.

Dalli argued that Parliament’s hours must become more family-friendly to encourage more women to run for politics, and that the debate on gender quotas must be expanded to encourage more disabled and LGBTI+ people to run.

Moreover, she called for “initiatives” to attract “truly valid” people – both male and female – into politics.

“Unfortunately, the current atmosphere is not attracting enough valid people to local politics but is rather pushing those people away. That is something we need to address sooner rather than later.”

When asked by MaltaToday for her stance on gender quotas, Nationalist MEP Therese Comodini Cachia did not categorically come out in favour or against it, instead arguing that equality is all about creating a level playing field.

“A level playing field is not created by a system which decreases male MPs so as to increase female MPs simply to get the numbers right,” she said. “It is one that provides equal access to women and men to the path that leads you to become an MP.”

She similarly called for parliamentary sittings to be held earlier on during the day, but said that the current late hours prejudice against both women and men, since it takes them both away from their family during what it is usually the only time of day during which family members are all at home. 

Muscat earlier this week floated a proposal to introduce a gender quota for MPs, that will increase the amount of female MPs without decreasing the amount of male ones.
He said that the proposal will not change the situation for MPs who get elected through the current system, but that female MPs will be elected over and above that, ostensibly suggesting an even more bloated Parliament.
Civil liberties minister Helena Dalli on Wednesday threw her weight behind Muscat’s proposal, arguing that it is necessary to ensure that Parliament is truly representative of society.

However, independent MP and Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia came out strongly against the proposal – warning that gender quotas amount to positive discrimination and will deal a blow to the credibility that women have earned over the years.

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