Editorial | Wednesday, 23 April 2008
The London Sunday Times last week gave prominence to the pink revolution taking over in Europe, pointing out the progress women are making in positions of high political office with the Spanish cabinet having a majority female presence and the surprise and bold decisions made by President Sarkozy in France. Scandinavian countries have for years been the standard bearers of female emancipation and the bulwark of female representation in parliament. It would appear that now even in southern Mediterranean countries the map of representation and male domination is fast changing creating parliaments, which truly represent all the people. This is all happening in a climate where public opinion is happy to see more women at the helm and in key positions taking decisions which effect the people in their daily lives.
Regrettably, although there a few encouraging signs coming from Malta, we are lagging at the bottom of the list in the European union with the fewest number of women in parliament - creating a feeling that our house of representatives is not really a true reflection of the country as a whole. To date, there are only six women elected in the new parliament, far too few to really give a female perspective to our highest institution. All political parties have paid lip service to the idea of advancing women’s progress by stating their preference for a bigger female presence in parliament at local council level and on government boards and authorities but few tangible and concrete measures have been taken to pave the way for a pink revolution in Malta. This all begs the question what can be done concretely for this to be achieved and asking whether positive discrimination by allocating seats to women is the right way forward?
There are countries which have toiled with the idea of actually insisting that certain posts are allocated to women in the selection process when choosing candidates to be elected but this is being met with resistance, triggering claims that competent males are being overlooked and have their chances of being elected reduced simply in the name of political correctness and in order to give a chance to women to be elected.
There are other factors, which are militating against women standing for parliament, which is seen as too male dominated including the lack of child care facilities, working hours that work against the clock of mothers with children. Research carried out in the UK has shown how the traditional image of a member of parliament and the confrontational approach of politics militate against women. There is also a different interest zone between men and women, with women less interested in the big events of politics and far more interested in the bread and butter issues of schools, hospitals and the general well being of society. There is also tendency to question the competence of a woman more than that of a man and in such a sensitive position as parliament this is likely to create a feeling of ill ease and raises the issue of competence. The appearance of women also in highly image conscious society is also likely to be an issue which serves to detract women from seeking public office as they are more likely to be criticised if they do not look good in the elegant world of politics where image has come to count more than substance with few people taking notice of what politicians say and more as to what they look like and appear.
There is however little doubt that the most burning question is the matter of working hours and the cruelly long and late working hours which parliamentarians have to go through if their careers in politics are to move forward. As a consequence many women are preferring to participate in think tanks and on committees where they enjoy the luxury of flexible working hours rather than the stringent and long parliamentary sessions, which they are expected to attend and participate in.
The political parties in Malta too should take a leaf out of Zapatero’s book by not only giving verbal support to more female participation but by actually introducing a system of positive discrimination in favour of women who will be allocated a number of placings in positions of high office to once and for all break the glass ceiling. This could involve allocating a number of directorships on government boards to women as also by reserving a set number of women in the candidates lists drawn up by the parties. Simultaneously changes in the law need to take place which will make it easier for persons to gain experience and knowledge of the workings of government which to date has been far too male dominated with little space given to women. By so doing hopefully Malta will up its position in the league tables to the benefit of women and society in general.
23 April 2008
ISSUE NO. 532