[WATCH] Historic law will put more women MPs inside Malta’s parliament

Constitutional amendments include state funding of parties presenting a balanced list of candidates

Women make policy, not coffee.. an activist at a recent feminist rally in Valletta
Women make policy, not coffee.. an activist at a recent feminist rally in Valletta
Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli

The number of female members of parliament could be set to increase by 12 under a government proposal aimed at achieving gender equality which was announced by the government on Tuesday.

The measure will come into play if the number of MPs from the under-represented sex amounts to less than 40% of the total.

Under the proposed reform - which will be put to a month-long public consultation starting today - up to 12 additional MPs from the under-represented sex will be added to the number of MPs elected through the current electoral system.

The reform will include other measures aimed at mainstreaming gender issues in parliament as well as making the institution more family friendly. Proposals also include state-funding of political parties which choose to include more members of the under-represented sex on their party list, as well as a reform of the electoral commission.

Addressing a press conference launching a public consultation on the proposals, Reforms Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli said she wanted to, above all else, send a message  to women that if she – a woman and mother to a young girl – could have a career in politics, so could all other women.

She said she was well aware of the challenges preventing women from taking such a step, ranging from gender stereotypes which often made women feel like their place was not in politics, to more practical considerations like having to juggle politics and raising children.

Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli
Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli

Despite this reality, Farrugia Portelli said she believed that “small shock to the system” could turn things around.

Having discussed the matter with a number of MPs from both sides of the House, and one issue that was most  regularly raised was the lack of family-friendly services, such as a childcare service.  

This legislature has seen parliament meet two hours earlier than it always has, with Farrugia Portelli saying that this had already made a big difference.

However, she said the technical committee that had worked on the proposed reform was recommending the establishment of another committee to discuss gender mainstreaming and other possible measures in this regard.

Reform to define us as a people

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that what the government was proposing would “define us as a people”.

“We are proposing these changes because we believe in an equally represented society, and in one which is fair and which embraces inclusion in the clearest possible manner,” the Prime Minister said.

He said the changes being proposed were ambitious and would undoubtedly shock the current system.

The proposed mechanism, Muscat said, would increases representation in parliament rather than reduce it.

“They are  not quotas, nobody will take anyone’s place…no person elected  by the people will have their place taken and the people elected through the mechanism will be elected by the people.”

Rather, he said that what was being discussed was the introduction of “positive measures” aimed at increasing equality and diversity of thought within the country’s highest institution.

Muscat said he was sure that the “usual conservative voices” would criticise the proposals, noting however that there had been similar opposition to other reforms which are today taken for granted such as every individual having the right to vote, irrespective of their social status.

Arguments against the proposal, he said would be heard and considered in order to ensure the best possible system is developed.

He said arguments against  the proposals needed to be heard and considered in order to ensure the best way forward.

Measures based on four main pillars

Professor Carman Sammut, the chairman of the committee behind the reforms, explained that the measures being proposed were based on four main pillars: a constitutional amendment introducing a corrective measure to the current electoral system, gender mainstreaming and the introduction of family-friendly measures in parliament, state funding of political parties that recruit, support and field candidates of the under-represented sex, an extension of the Electoral Commission’s current remit.

The package of reforms will aim to achieve a critical mass of 33% of women in the House, which has been determined to be the level of representation at which measures are no longer required.

The first proposal, she said, would require a change to Malta’s constitution and would have a sunset clause of 20 years, meaning the government of the  day will need to decide whether to extent the mechanism or not.

The first in line to the House will be “hanging candidates” from the under-represented sex who were the last to be eliminated in the proportional representation system of electing MPs.

Next, wasted votes of hanging candidates from the over-represented sex who were not elected will be utilised to elect a candidate of the under-represented sex. If the desired target is still not achieved, the wasted votes of handing candidates from both sexes which however were  elected through a casual election will be utilised to elect a candidate  of the under-represented sex.

Individuals who identify as gender neutral will be added to whichever of the two sexes is under-represented.

The second pillar, focusing on gender mainstreaming and family-friendly measures will look to sensitise MPs to gender issues, alter working hours, discuss the possibility of backbenchers becoming full-time MPs, increase female representation on parliamentary committees and see parliament adopt anti-harassment policies.

Acknowledging the need for balanced candidate list being presented by parties contesting elections, the technical committee has also recommended legal amendments to the country’s party financing laws to allow for state funds that can be used by parties to recruit, promote and train candidates of the under-represented sex.

The political parties will be obliged to prepare a financial audit of how funds were utilised to promote better equality between the sexes.

Finally, it is being proposed that for the Electoral Commission will also undergo a reform to make it more representative and better able to monitor and regulate the use  of state funds by the parties.

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