[WATCH] Political quotas alone would be useless, activists agree

Lawyer says that with more women graduating from university than men, surely there are more than enough capable women who could participate in politics effectively, if only society and politics were geared for female participation

Introducing political quotas without complementing them with other measures - including changing the time parliament meets, possibly making MPs full-time, and other family-friendly initiatives - would be quite useless as women would not be incentivised to enter the political fray, two major proponent of women's rights agreed on Thursday.

Speaking to Saviour Balzan on Xtra on TVM, Renee Laiviera, Commissioner for the Promotion of Equality, and lawyer Lara Dimitrijevic said that current procedure and policies made it nigh on impossible for female participation in politics.

Laiviera recalled that in the past, she – like other women who promoted gender equality – had been subject to a lot of abuse and ridicule and acknowledged that Malta had made substantial improvement towards gender equality, as society started to understand better the aspirations of women as well.

“Education is one sector where this improvement is most clear, with more women graduating from university than men,” she said. “Although some subjects, like engineering, remain followed mostly by male students.”

Lawyer Lara Dimitrijevic said she was worried by a recent Eurobarometer report which revealed that the perception of 49% of Maltese in cases of rape, attempted rape or molestation, tended to justify the action of the male.

On participation in the workforce, Dimitrijevic noted that while women were today expected to pursue a career like their husbands, for the most part they were also expected to take care of the home and be the primary caregivers for the children.

Laiviera agreed that a person’s capabilities and skills should not be tied to sex or political affiliation but insisted that they also should not be restricted to the individual’s academic qualifications.

Renee Laiviera (left) and Lara Dimitrijevic
Renee Laiviera (left) and Lara Dimitrijevic

“But I have to ask: where are the women in parliament? Where are the women in the political parties,” she said. “It is not enough for parties to say that they have so many women on their executives.”

Dimitrijevic said that with more women graduating from university than men, surely there were more than enough capable women who could participate in politics effectively.

“The problem is that society is not geared towards female participation in politics, and policies and procedure currently are not conducive to enticing women to enter politics,” she said.

Establishing a foundation in education

Dimitrijevic said it was time to start leading boys from a young age to activities traditionally associated with girls, in order to get the younger generation set in the mindset that both sexes have the same capabilities and should have the same opportunities.

“If it weren’t for my husband, who chose to stay at home, I would not have been able to pursue a career and establish my legal practice,” she said.

With reference to the possibility of introducing quotas in politics, to help raise the level of female representation in parliament, Dimitrijevic said this would definitely help, at least in the short term.

She said there were a number of scenarios under which such quotas could be introduced, including initially having political parties voluntarily establish quotas for female candidates.

In a live phone-in, Nationalist MP Kristy Debono said it would be imperative to ensure that any proposals or recommendations fully respect the democratic process that was a major mainstay of our political system.

“We also need to consider that it would be quite useless to impose such quotas when our procedural setup remains definitely not family-friendly, with Parliament meeting only in the evenings, votes and divisions going late into the night,” she said.

Debono agreed that a possible first step would be to have full-time members of parliament, as that would make the political scene much more family friendly.

On the gender gap in Malta, Laiviera said that it was important to encourage women to participate more at all levels and in all sectors.

“In many of the countries that registered improvement in the participation of women, including in politics, quotas had been introduced, though this had often been complemented by other measures,” she said.

Laiviera said it was not true that women could not be elected, as already proven in past elections where some female candidates had even been elected on two districts.

Laiviera and Dimitrijevic agreed that it would be fruitless to introduce quotas in politics if these were not accompanied by other changes, including altering the time parliament meets.

Lawyer Ramona Frendo said she was totally against the introduction of quotas.

“Quotas could help, definitely, but how women who profit from quotas will be perceived is another thing,” she said. “I find the concept of quotas unacceptable.”

She said that no woman should have to choose between a career or her family.

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