[WATCH] COVID-19 exposed women's vulnerability in the struggle to achieve equality

Xtra on TVM | Labour Party President Ramona Attard and Nationalist MP Therese Comodini Cachia spar on the COVID-19 emergency but agree the pandemic exposed the problems with equality ingrained in Maltese culture

Labour Party President Ramona Attard
Labour Party President Ramona Attard

The coronavirus pandemic exposed the problems that are still ingrained in Maltese culture when it comes to gender equality, Labour Party president Ramona Attard said.

COVID-19 showed that women shouldered the bulk of childcare responsibility and were more likely to have asked for teleworking or reduced hours, she noted.

Her sentiments were reflected by Nationalist MP Therese Comodini Cachia who added that what happened in the pandemic was what always happened at a time of crisis.

They were debating on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday, which focussed on the COVID-19 crisis and also its impact on gender equality.

“I believe we have to do more to change our culture but I have to note that despite the pandemic, the average wage for women last year remained stable,” Attard said.

She added that policy decisions taken since 2013 such as free childcare and the in-work benefit encouraged more women to join the labour force. Financial independence for women is one step in achieving gender equality.

PN MP Therese Comodini Cachia
PN MP Therese Comodini Cachia

Comodini Cachia said the pandemic exposed society’s “cracks and vulnerabilities”. “Despite women making up half of the population, they still have obstacles, which they need to overcome that men don’t have,” she said.

Comodini Cachia said equality was not just about the number of women in employment but also the dignity and respect shown in society.

Earlier, the two politicians sparred on the current COVID-19 crisis and the more restrictive measures introduced 24 hours earlier to curb the spread of the infection.

Comodini Cachia said the measures were needed because government showed a lack of maturity when Prime Minister Robert Abela kept using words such as “I want to enjoy the summer”, “heaven on earth” and “business as usual”.

“Doesn’t everyone want to enjoy the summer, doesn’t everyone want to return back to normality but the government knew what could happen if we weren’t careful, responsible and mature,” the PN MP said.

One year after a soft lockdown, Malta is in a worse position and front liners are exhausted, she added.

Attard rebutted that government based its decision on the advice of its medical and scientific advisors.

Attard was critical of Opposition leader Bernard Grech, adding that he failed to propose anything concrete solutions apart from insisting on calling for a national emergency.

“This government invested and took measures according to what experts advised… who can people trust to come up with solutions? Robert Abela, Chris Fearne and Prof. Gauci or Bernard Grech, Stephen Spiteri and Maria Deguara, who said that the vaccine is not the solution?”

Attard insisted that strengthening the vaccination programme was the key to improving the situation.

“Health remains a priority but we cannot ignore the economy and to shore up effected businesses and maintain employment the government introduced the wage supplement,” she said, repeating that she did not want to engage in partisan discourse.

Comodini Cachia criticised the Prime Minister for being 'immature', while Attard accused the Opposition leader of failing to propose concrete solutions
Comodini Cachia criticised the Prime Minister for being 'immature', while Attard accused the Opposition leader of failing to propose concrete solutions

Mistakes and responsibility

Asked whether Abela’s loose talk may have given people false hope, Attard said the Prime Minister himself had acknowledged mistakes were made.

“Only those who do not work make no mistakes. The Prime Minister has shouldered responsibility for every decision taken,” she said.

She insisted Malta’s efforts were also praised by WHO European Regional Director Hans Kluge multiple times, with his latest being a Tweet earlier this month when he praised the rapid vaccine rollout.

Comodini Cachia said government ignored proposals made by the PN and warnings issued by several representatives of healthcare professionals.

Asked whether the Opposition was trying to profit from the crisis, given it had no responsibility to shoulder in trying to reach a balance between health and economic wellbeing, she said the PN’s proposals never called for businesses to shut.

“Our proposals were always aimed at introducing measures to avoid the scenario where businesses have to close… we want businesses to thrive and people to keep their jobs but our proposals were ignored by government and when it did make some of the proposals its own it would engage in partisan discourse,” Comodini Cachia said.