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Supporting women’s empowerment

Throughout the last legislature, the government strived to empower women by providing incentives that allow them to work while maintaining a work-life balance. This has resulted in an increase in the rate of employed women.

While contributing to economic growth, the move has also ensured that more women became independent.

However, while we achieved great results in this realm, when one considers the number of women elected to Parliament at the general election, we are still way behind. In fact, at the last election, a deficit was once again seen in the number of women elected because of the insufficient number of women candidates.

And this, I believe, is the problem – the current system is failing to attract a good number of women candidates.

President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, previously head of UN Women, once said that “a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect but to be elected”.

While, I agree with this, I believe that for more women to be elected there needs to be a bigger pool of women candidates. In fact, statistics from recent elections show that, considering the small amount of women candidates, a good percentage of them were elected compared to that of men, even though the numbers are, unfortunately, still abysmal.

However, we can’t expect the number of women candidates to soar without doing anything. For women to be attracted to positing their candidacies, the political environment needs to be made attractive, even to them.

Very often politics tends to be an environment leaning towards men – a “boys’ club”. It is for this reason that the Labour Party’s LEAD programme was seen as a breath of fresh air.

Women are capable of leading, as much as any man, and having a mentoring programme like this one is what will help all interested women unleash their full potential. The thirst for such a programme was easily seen with the number of applications received and the interest it generated in several women, many of them not having any experience in the sector but interested in entering the world of politics.

Men should embrace gender equality in the manner in which they treat women – the manner in which they speak to women and in valuing their opinions and actions as they do those of men

This was an initiative that has been needed for years, and I will support it with all my heart. In fact, it will be my utmost pleasure to serve as one of the mentors in this programme alongside several of my colleagues. And I will do this wholeheartedly, as I believe in the ability of women and the need for more empowerment of them.

As Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government, I strived, and will keep on doing so, to include as many women as possible in high-ranking positions, with specific reference to the judiciary.

In fact, the number of women in the judiciary, as magistrates or judges, has drastically increased, and a woman judge has also presided over a trial by jury for the first time in history.

In fact, I genuinely believe that for gender equality to thrive in its many facets, men should embrace the value of equality.

Rather than seeing women as a threat, men should ensure that women are given the same opportunities as men.

When I say the same opportunities, I am not only referring to what is written on paper as rights.

Men should embrace gender equality in the manner in which they treat women – the manner in which they speak to women and in valuing their opinions and actions as they do those of men. Men should treat women as peers rather than inferiors.

With regards to politics, men should ensure that the political environment is characterised in a manner that attracts and is convenient for women as well.

And by supporting LEAD, this is what we’re doing, helping women and ensuring that they are given that extra push they needed to enter the world of politics.

Of course, this needs to be accompanied by other reforms, such as that considering having full-time members of Parliament and having family-friendly measures in Parliament, which would ultimately benefit both men and women.

Most of all, as the father of a young girl, I want to see her grow up in a world where being a woman is not an obstacle, where the empowerment of women is not a rarity but the norm, where seeing a woman elected to Parliament is not looked at with amazement but is an everyday occurrence.

Owen Bonnici is Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government.

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