[WATCH] Joseph Muscat at the UN: ‘The future is female’

Addressing the UN General Assembly, the Maltese Prime Minister speaks of the need to achieve gender equality ‘in our lifetime’

Joseph Muscat addressing the 74th session of the UN General Assembly
Joseph Muscat addressing the 74th session of the UN General Assembly

Joseph Muscat has called on leaders to commit to achieving gender equality “in our lifetime” as the worldwide momentum for women’s rights gathers pace.

The Maltese Prime Minister told the 74thUN General Assembly in New York on Thursday that the role women have played in society and the places of work has been “underestimated, under-acknowledged and unrecognised”.

“The future is female, for we need to understand that we cannot succeed when approximately half of our global population is being held back,” Muscat said.

He then went on to describe the “silent social revolution” that resulted from the introduction of universal free childcare for all working parents in Malta.

The measure introduced in 2014 encouraged more women to join the labour force. “The result was essentially a silent social revolution. The female employment rate in Malta increased from 52% in 2013 to 63.4% in 2018.”

Muscat also spoke of the system introduced over the past five years by which social benefits are reduced gradually when a person enters the labour market. The tapering of benefits, Muscat told UN delegates, helped get people out of the poverty trap and back on their feet.

“The number of those on social assistance in Malta has halved in the last six years… Yet this is not enough,” Muscat insisted.

He then reiterated government’s commitment to ensure gender balance in politics, describing Malta’s female representation in this sphere as “meagre, to say the least”.

“In this regard and aware of the persistent under-representation of women in Parliament, we launched a reform proposing affirmative action that can help us bridge the gap,” Muscat said of the proposed reform to increase the number of women MPs.

But in his speech Muscat also found space to mention children and the need to include their perspectives in all policies and decisions that affect them.

He said Malta was committed to fully incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into its legislation.

“When I think about the future, my mind instantly goes to my daughters… Good health, well-being and quality inclusive education are fundamental human rights and are indispensable for the achievement of sustainable development and the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In this vein, all children, boys and girls, should have access to good quality health and education to ensure their wellbeing,” the Prime Minister said.

Muscat also mentioned Malta’s track record on the rights of LGBTIQ+ people and how legislation passed over the past five years has become somewhat of a gold standard globally.

However, he noted that more had to be done to address certain issues such as family acceptance.

“Autonomy and empowerment are values that our legislation and practice seek to mainstream, while ensuring appropriate supports to persons who could find themselves in more vulnerable situations,” Muscat said.