Not just gender quotas - Hermann Schiavone
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Not just gender quotas - Hermann Schiavone

In the last few weeks the Prime Minister has floated a number of ideas about how he wishes to reform our political system. Gender quotas, albeit now under a different name, appear  to be his top priority. He has, however, also mentioned a time limit of 10 years for prime ministers and four legislatures for Members of Parliament. 

Interestingly, Muscat failed to suggest a time limit for Cabinet members.

Before discussing this subject, I have to say from the outset that the thoughts I will be expressing are my own and do not reflect my party’s official position. The party has still to discuss any proposal in its official structures.  

Lets’ start with gender quotas.

The concept of quotas has produced considerable controversy in many countries, as they have been seen as bypassing the competitive process and the merit principle. There are various debates surrounding this topic but they mainly revolve around the principle of equality. 

There are two types of equalities: equality of opportunity and equality of results.  

The first one can be satisfied by way of supporting women by means of training, funding and forms of ‘caring’ leave. 

The second form of equality can be fulfilled by affirmative action which guarantees an increased representation of women by means of quota which is a minimum number of women that have to be elected or topped up.

It appears that Maltese women MPs are not united in favour of quotas. 

Indeed, when interviewed 12 years ago, out of the six women MPs only two supported an introduction of a women’s quota in Malta. Former minister Dolores Cristina, in 2007, argued that women in decision-making positions have to get there on their own merit and not because they are placed there through some quota. 

“Quotas see the nomination of women to positions not for their merits but because of their gender,” she stressed.

During academic research I conducted years later, I interviewed women MPs. One of them pointed out that she wishes that quotas are not needed but insisted that quotas should be introduced until women reach a critical mass in Parliament. 

Another female MP argued that although she did not need a quota to get elected, there were valid women who could make it to the public life if they have that [quota] opening. 

Recently, however, Roberta Metsola, a successful MEP garnering more than 32,000 votes in the 2014 MEP election, clearly stated that she is against any form of quotas. So did my colleague in Parliament Kristy Debono. 

Despite tough competition from seasoned politicians, Debono managed to get elected in the ninth district with more than 4,000 first preference votes. 

So, as you see, there is no consensus about the introduction of quotas.

Our electoral system does not discriminate against women. It is actually a neutral system in terms of returning MPs. 

Yes, we need more women in the chamber as their point of view matters

The 2014 MEPs election proved that the single transferable vote system is not to blame for the low representation of women in Parliament as four out of six MEPs elected were women. 

Do we need more women in Parliament? Do we need quotas to achieve this? 

My answer to these questions are yes and no. Yes, we need more women in the chamber as their point of view matters. No we do not need quotas to achieve this.

What we need is an overhaul of our entire political system and this is where Muscat’s other proposals come into play.  Setting time limits for prime ministers, Cabinet ministers and MPs will surely help for more turnover in our Parliament. So, I fully agree with the idea in principle. More turnover will facilitate more women and technocrats to find their way in the highest institution.

But we have to go a step further and this is where I may sound controversial. 

We have to scrap our electoral system and replace it with a party list system, the same one used in most Western democracies. We, the two main political parties, have to have the courage to change how MPs are elected.

In Scandinavia parity between genders in Parliament is achieved through what is called a zipped party list where candidates on the list are featured in alternate positions. 

So, if the first name on the list is a male, the second would be a female and so on.

Such a system will not only promote valid women but also technocrats. 

The much-talked about constitutional convention ought to look at our political system holistically. 

There is no point talking about having full-time members of Parliament, quotas and time limits without knowing exactly how we want our Parliament and the entire political system to function.

If we want a functioning democracy, we need a complete overhaul and not just the introduction of gender quotas.

Hermann Schiavone is a Nationalist MP.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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