Scarcely any progress in women's political representation since 1950s

Proportion of women in parliament increased by only 5% in almost 70 years, only 16.6 % women's representation rate in the media

MEPs were largely in agreement that a quota system was needed if women's participation in politics and the media were to increase significantly in Malta
MEPs were largely in agreement that a quota system was needed if women's participation in politics and the media were to increase significantly in Malta

Whilst MEPs generally agreed that a culture change was needed if women's particiaption in Malta were to increase, there was less consensus amongst them and academics on whether quotas were a positive means of achieving this and addressing the severe under-representation of Maltese women in public life.

Speaking at the discussion ‘Women in Politics and Women in the Media’, moderated by The Malta Independent editor-in-chief Rachel Attard, Labour and Nationalist Party MEPs recognised that the breaking of stereotypes were an important factor in addressing the issue of a lack of participation in politics and the media.

Addressing the well-attended conference - which was organised by the European Parliament Office in Malta and the Gender Studies department - Brenda Murphy, head of gender studies at the university, said via videoconferencing that it was a stark reality that very few women had decision-making roles in politics in Malta, and they were also labouring and under-represented in the media sector.

“Women and girls are to a large extent silenced in the media,” she said, “In 2015 we found there was only a 16.6% representation rate in the area – no improvement on the previous study, from 2010.”

“What has come out from our discussions is that to achieve a cultural shift we have to start with awareness, legislation and enforcement.”

Barely any progress in women’s participation in decades

Taking the floor, PN MEP Roberta Metsola highlighted that a only tiny portion of women had so-far participated in Maltese politics.

“Since being granted the vote, 80 women have been involved in politics in Malta. The figure for men is around 1,000.”

In a similar vein, Labour MEP Miriam Dalli noted how little female participation in politics had increased over the course of several decades.

“Back in 1950, we had 10% female representation in the Maltese parliament. Now it’s gone up by around 5% to 14.9%,” she said, “This places us second from last in the EU when it comes to female representation.”

Acknowledging that Malta had not made enough advancements in this area throughout the years, Nationalist Party MEP Francis Zammit Dimech said “we have failed.”

“Political decision-making is far more complete when we really respect the gender issue very thoroughly. Until we do that, the process is warped – you have percentages which do not reflect society.”

Sylvana Debono, RTK’s editor-in-chief and one of the few women with a major role in media decision-making, also on the discussion panel, remarked that “journalism is not for the faint-hearted, whether you are a man or a woman.”

Opinions vary on whether quotas needed

“It’s difficult for women to become decision-makers for different reasons. One of them is our own self-policing, growing up in an environment which does not encourage this,” Murphy said

She stressed that the only way to get the tide to change was to have strategies in place to guarantee women’s participation in key roles increased.

“When we think about quotas to resolve the decision-making imbalance, it’s about semantics."

“Let’s call them 'strategies for ensuring gender equality', instead of quotas. We need to realistically bring in physical changes through mechanisms ensuring gender equality.”

For hundreds of years the British parliament used quotas, she said - the quotas dictated that only men could participate.

Countering her argument, a student in the audience insisted that the problem would not be fixed using quotas, but through a change in the way people were brought up, leading to a fundamental change in their mentality and culture.

While conceding that stereotypes had to be broken, pro-rector Carmen Sammut said that “the tree has to be shaken. In decades nothing had happened.”

“Unless we reach a level of 30% female participation, it will be very different for things to change, which is why we have to look at different quota systems.”

Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi, however, said she didn’t agree with quotas as she respected women enough to not think they should be given a particular place simply because they were women.

“You have to start from changing our culture – but we must also refrain from putting a psychological hurdle on ourselves which says we won’t make it because we are women,” she maintained.

In turn, Zammit Dimech said that until the root cause of what was causing inequality was addressed, “the decision-making process would remain far from being complete and appropriate.”

Metsola, who has previous spoken out against a quota system, said that while she wanted to push the female participation rate up to 30% and higher, she didn’t want a woman elected to a post merely based on her gender, but instead because she was the most qualified person for the job.

“We need to have a programme ensuring as many women are candidates for a position as men”, she said, “We need strategies, but let us not fall into a situation were a woman has to justify why she was chosen.”

Dalli was more open to the quota question, saying that there were different possible quota options which could be adopted, yet Malta persisted in keeping a step back and not touching the debate.

"We must start discussing this under-representation issue properly and change things, or else nothing is going to happen, just as nothing happened in 70 years," she said.

Daphne Caruana Galizia dehumanised because she was a woman

Addressing the issue of what impact journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder could have on young people entering the media sector, Debono said that she hoped it would encourage them to have their own opinions and enter journalism.

“Daphne’s assassination was significant not only in the political and journalistic sense, but also because she was the recipient of attacks and a systematic dehumanisation which I strongly suspect a male blogger would never have been subjected to,” she said.

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