‘Bring back our social realities’
Human rights lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia believes the PN has distanced itself from the people in its effort to rebuild the country. She tells Christian Peregin she can bring social realities back to the fore.
Name: Therese Comodini Cachia
What is your background and what made you get involved in politics?
I’ve been practising law for the past 15 years. I’ve also been lecturing on human rights law and helping NGOs in advocacy. I think politics is the natural next step. It’s about time I chipped in.
Would you say you’re a born politician?
I’m a born advocate. I feel the needs of a person suffering an injustice. I also feel the needs of families. I’ve lived a normal life. I’ve experienced obstacles and a number of social realities. And even in my legal practice I have focused on social aspects.
Have you always been a Nationalist?
Yes, but merely because it is the party that brought change to our country. It has been an enabler rather than a controller.
How do you think you can contribute?
I think my best contribution would be to really bring social realities to politics.
What do you mean?
As a lawyer, and even now on house visits, I meet people and participate somewhat in their personal lives. And I think those are the social realities that politicians really need to be aware of.
Do you think that the Government has ignored social realities?
It is not ignoring social realities. The PN Government has had to take control of a country, from the MLP Government, which didn’t even have the basic services infrastructure. Even education was in turmoil. So the PN has really had to go to the drawing board and almost start setting up a country from scratch.
You’re talking about 1987?
A lot of time has passed since then.
A lot of time has passed and since then the party has literally focused on getting the infrastructure and education right, while empowering people.
What do you think is the next step?
I think our politicians were very busy implementing strategies and maybe they got distanced from people. I think that is what I can bring back. Let’s bring social realities back into politics.
When you say social realities, what are you referring to exactly?
Personal life, experiences. During house visits you meet different families. You meet families who have problems because their children have a disability, for example, or they haven’t found employment.
I think those are the social realities that we really need to understand. If we understand what people experience, their obstacles and assets, then we could have good policies to address these issues.
Would you consider yourself to be liberal or conservative?
I consider myself to be myself. I don’t like labels, at all. I don’t know what I am. I just look at an issue and I decide.
Let’s take divorce. Where did you stand?
I stood on the side of divorce. I voted for divorce, merely because there was a social reality that, according to me, needed to be legislatively regulated. Injustices were being suffered by children, women and men who could not obtain a divorce and I felt that social reality should be addressed.
Did it disturb you that the PN did not agree with your point of view and actually took a stand against divorce?
No, let me explain why. The PN was in favour of strengthening marriage. That is something I am strongly in favour of. But the PN was the only party in Parliament who gave a free vote.
It discussed divorce and took a stand together against. Does it worry you that the party ignored the social injustices you were just talking about?
Social injustices do not dictate law, in the sense that you cannot merely draft laws on emotions. The PN has certain principles and it adheres to those principles and values. And that is something I admire. But ultimately it allowed the people to decide. Even within the party, the leader actually allowed a free vote to all MPs. No one was condemned after for voting in favour of divorce.
If George Borg Olivier is associated with independence, Dom Mintoff with freedom from the British and Eddie Fenech Adami with democracy and the EU, what do you think Lawrence Gonzi’s legacy will be?
I think Dr Gonzi’s legacy is empowerment. He has enabled us, through tools like education and infrastructure. I see him as an enabler as opposed to a controller. I see the PN as having a vision to enable the people to make their lives better. Politicians are not there to tell you what to do but to help you take control and stock of your life and give you the opportunities that you can tap into.
And yet, the same Prime Minister opposed divorce.
Yes, but that is completely different. The Prime Minister opposed divorce on a matter of principle, but he did not say: “I control you and because I oppose divorce, there will be no divorce.” The Prime Minister said: “I’m against divorce but I recognise the social reality, I read the time of the day and I’ll give a free vote.”
The Government recently refused to support an EU bid to impose gender quotas in the boardrooms of publicly listed companies. What is your opinion on quotas for women?
My natural initial reaction is no, simply because I would like people to be chosen on meritocracy and not because you are male or female. But I have worked in the equality field and unfortunately, yes, women are still at a disadvantage. The disadvantage is not a legislative disadvantage. It is a social disadvantage and that needs to be addressed. So when we speak of quotas simply to address an imbalance, a disadvantage that is currently proved, then yes.
As a temporary measure?
Simply until we get a level playing field.
Many women’s organisations criticised the Government for its stand. As a human rights lawyer and equality advocate, how did it make you feel?
Not all women organisations or women are in favour of quotas. And even when they issue a statement, they tend to agree that quotas are the unfortunate last measure of resort. It did not make me feel uncomfortable. I understand that we need to advocate more and maybe raise more awareness.
Do you think the Government has failed to prioritise these issues?
On the contrary, I think this Government has been the one to really give it priority. If you look at the projects it has conducted to train women and put them back in employment... If you look at tax rebate schemes the Government has given women to return to employment after childbirth...
So what is it that you can contribute to this sort of debate within the PN?
I think it is to get a philosophy or approach whereby we do not just say there is a dropout of women from employment, but we consider why and carry out adequate research. When we know the causes we can address them individually and holistically. I think that would be my contribution to this issue.