Updated: ‘A democracy without women is half a democracy’

Updated: ‘A democracy without women is half a democracy’

Tackling inequality is essential as Malta is still losing out on its investment in women’s education because they are unable to continue careers because of family responsibilities, according to Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli.

Female graduates outnumber males in Malta but the country is failing to provide the support for women to carry on with their careers, Dr Dalli said.

“We cannot afford to waste these resources just because we are not providing the supplementary help necessary for women to carry on with their careers after this country invests so much in them,” Dr Dalli said, adding that Malta would also be addressing the economy in this way.

She referred to incentives like free child care centres introduced this month to help increase female participation in the labour market. In the third quarter of last year, women in the workforce increased by 3.8 per cent, reaching 48.7 per cent, Dr Dalli said.

“Malta is working to catch up,” she added.

The Minister was addressing a packed conference marking the 50th anniversary of the National Council of Women. The audience included women from all over the world as it coincided with the executive committee meeting of the International Council of Women being held this week.

Nathalie Tagwerker, Deputy Head of the OSCE’s Democratization Department, also addressed the audience. She stressed the need for Malta to strengthen efforts to implement the commitments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

“Many challenges remain for Malta. Women’s representation in Parliament is the lowest in Member States and OSCE participating countries,” Dr Tagwerker said.

“A democracy without women is half a democracy,” she said.

Peter Agius, Head of the European Parliament Office in Malta, pointed to the increase last year in the percentage of Maltese female MEPs, saying it went from zero to 50 per cent almost overnight. He said he expected the same ratio to be maintained in the upcoming elections.

Although the percentage of women in the Maltese Parliament is low, Dr Agius said, it increased by five per cent since the previous election. His remark that “this is a huge improvement” was not easily accepted.

Ajla van Heel, Gender Officer at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institution and Human Rights said that at this rate Malta would achieve parity in 2048. An expert in promoting women’s participation in politics, Ms Heel outlined various measures that could be introduced to increase women’s representation in Parliament, including a six-step plan based on a study held in 57 countries.

Claudette Buttigieg spoke of the media’s role in shaping women’s development, saying her 20-year career in television was an advantage during the last elections. The most important tools for women’s development, Ms Buttigieg said, were networking and mentoring, and social media was enabling women to do this.

Other speakers included Josann Cutajar, Senior Lecturer at the University’s Gender Department Studies, who spoke of the increased risk women face in Malta in terms of poverty. “Compared to other EU countries, poverty in Malta is not very evident but it exists,” she said.

Dr Cutajar was critical of the fact that women’s employment history in Malta was and remains affected by marital status.

Godfrey Baldacchino, Professor of Sociology, said the percentage of women in the labour market was “abysmal” at under 50 per cent. Still, he said it was positive that there had been a 15 per cent increase in women in the workforce compared to an average of 5 per cent in the EU.

Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella closed the conference pointing to the failure of the Millenium Development Goals that were meant to be achieved by next year.

“Progress is uneven and inequality still exists,” Dr Vella said, adding that equality was one of key factors contributing to peace, security and disarmament.

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