Is more merrier? - Arthur Muscat
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Is more merrier? - Arthur Muscat

Photo: Jonathan Borg

Photo: Jonathan Borg

Issues concerning the advancement of women are quite high-profile and of interest. Some of our leading politicians never miss a chance to intervene on such issues, usually to pro­ject a seemingly incredible liberal open-mindedness. Unfortunately, quite often, they come up with proposals that betray a superficial and flippant approach to complex problems.

So they remind us of a distressing problem that our Parliament lacks adequate female representation. In search of a solution, the foremost among them, our Prime Minister, rather than tax his imagination, decides instead to tax us humble citizens. He comes up with the amazing proposal to increase the 65 members, of our crowded Parliament, by 15 more, bringing the number up to 80. These extra 15 seats, we are told, will be reserved for female election candidates.

Well, it is quite an amazing feat of a solution, and it must be just coincidental that in this manner the current male House presence, in its entirety, remains somewhat protected. Furthermore, the female-friendly image of the proponents of this measure is also highlighted; a really clever move.

Effecting no increases and instead just reserving 15 of the current 65 seats to be occupied exclusively by women looks like a horrible prospect to these men. No, no way will our men contemplate reducing their chance to make it to the most honourable job on the island.

For whoever is not aware, Malta has an electorate of approximately 280,000 eligible voters, leading to a situation whereby each of the 65 members would have required about 4,300 votes to make it to Parliament. Now has it ever occurred to anyone that Malta must hold the world record for the lowest number of electoral votes needed for a candidate to make it to Parliament? Within the EU the equivalent average number of votes required exceeds 50,000.

Let us be less offensive to women and more practical and imaginative in proposals that will encourage more participation on their part in Malta’s political affairs

According to our Prime Minister, we should consider even lowering the current Maltese average. With 15 extra seats, the average will go down to 3,500. But then Malta is, and has always been, special; there is so much leadership and intellectual talent among its population that cries out to be engaged, and not left to go to waste. Our Parliament packs a concentration of politically innovative, socially advanced, committed people like nowhere else in the EU. Moreover, there are so many aspirants in line seeking a chance to serve.

But seriously, coming down to earth, isn’t it in the interest of the Maltese citizen taxpayers to reduce the number of members of the House to a more sensible 43? This will result in financial savings that could go to better compensate our representatives who should become full-time professionals in their job.

Italy’s Five Star Movement is in the process of presenting for approval legislation that will reduce the current combined Senate and House members from 800 down to 500, or even fewer. Now that is what I call gutsy, sensible, forward-looking politics.

Proceeding further down this innovative path, isn’t it in the interest of Malta to have legislation that will allow a number of Cabinet posts to be filled by technically competent people, not members of, but answerable to, Parliament? The Italians have this facility.

Going back to our original female parliamentary representation issue, I have no doubt that a higher presence of wo­men in our Parliament would enhance, and not diminish, the standards and output of the House.

I am sure that the result will be fresh ideas and more open attitudes to old problems. However, to achieve this, I am not in favour of quotas, much less gender-based quotas, which invariably add up to, and end up as, discrimination and segregation. It is ridiculous and insulting to shield women from confrontation and competition with men through the establishment of reserved quotas.

Just as we are so keen to establish and support equality in all spheres, in opportunities, in status, in legal rights, equal treatment in everything, we must not fall into the trap of quotas, which by their very nature constitute unequal treatment.

Women have more than it takes to make it to, and ably perform in, any job or work. The majority of our current politically engaged women stand out for their tenacity in pursuing their objectives, their fighting spirit, their adherence to convictions and, yes, they display more genuine honesty in their approach.

Fundamentally, let us work to remove the inequality in the freedom to make, and advance in, the career choice. More social evolution and more social support is needed for women to venture forward. Family and career must become less mutually exclusive factors.

Let us have more childcare centres, let us have female access, without hindrance or career repercussions, to reduced and flexible hours at work. Such arrangements must be equally extended to men, who should use them to participate more in family responsibilities. Business, industry and jobs are important, but how much more important are the survival and perpetuation of the popu­lation? We must not begrudge maternity leave, in ensuring population replacement; pregnant women are fulfilling the greatest possible service to society.

So I ask our politicians to take note that Malta does not need 15 more parliamentary seats, and much less reserved for women. Let us get more serious and correctly identify what holds women back from engaging in activities outside the home and family. Let us be less offensive to women and more practical and imaginative in proposals that will encourage more participation on their part in Malta’s political affairs.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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