The Malta Independent 19 December 2018, Wednesday

Promises and empty undertakings

Gejtu Vella Tuesday, 6 March 2018, 08:55 Last update: about 11 months ago

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance” – Kofi Annan is the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.

This Thursday, like the rest of the international community, Malta will celebrate Women’s Day.  The theme for this year chosen by the International Women’s Day 2018 campaign is #PressforProgress, while that picked by the United Nations is ‘Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives’.

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With global activism for women’s equality fuelled by various movements, there is a strong momentum striving for gender parity.  And while it is well acknowledged that gender equality won’t happen overnight, the good news is that across the world women are making positive gains day by day.   Plus, there’s indeed a very strong and growing global of advocacy, activism and support. Nonetheless, we cannot be complacent. Now, more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity; a strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.  International Women’s Day is not country, group, or organisation specific. The day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. So together, let’s all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity. Collectively, let’s all press for progress.

But where does Malta stand on this issue?  Political parties have been reluctant to take concrete positive measures to increase female participation particularly but not exclusively in the political arena.Currently, of the sixty-seven members of parliament,only eight women sit in the House as a result of the last general election.  Why political parties are failing to attract females to be more participative in politics may be a million-dollar question. But whatever the issues maybe, not much is being done.  

This cannot be said for all areas, asfemale participation in tertiary education has increased to the extent that our university currently hostsmore females than males. Year-on-year, the number of female graduates is surpassing that of males.  Nonetheless, this is not reflected in senior positions in the workplace, both in the private sector and within the civil service, entities and authorities notwithstanding government is considered to play an important role and is considered to be the model employer. Moreover, the gender pay gap has continued, with men receiving higher rates of pay than women despite performing the same duties.  

This brings me to another subject which,for some reason which is not difficult to grasp, has been addressed by the four political parties with great urgency.  Although females have been promised, many times over, that they should receive equal treatment and have access to all opportunities, political parties in office have failed miserably to honour their commitment.  There has, however, been no such feet-dragging with regard to the Vote 16.

The attitude of the political parties is completely different when it comes to extending the vote to 16-year olds.The PartitLaburista, the Nationalist Party, the Democratic Party and AlternattivaDemokratika have all pledged their support to the introduction of Vote 16, which initially was floated on the national agenda by the National Youth Council (KNZ).  So far, from comments and public statements made by representatives ofthe four respective political parties, it seems that there is a broad consensus among the parties on the introduction of Vote 16.

One cannot deny that the proposal is attractive and captures the imagination of many, particularly the fifteen and sixteen-year olds.  But this is only a small portion in the whole equation.  In a highly politically charged society, the Vote 16 will, on one hand, give thirteen-year olds the opportunity to engage in public life and what this brings with it. Thirteen-year olds will be encouraged to participate in the national political debate which, on most occasions, is divisive and mean. Political parties will strive, using various means, to harness these teens to their folds as early as possible to ensure that their vote at the polls is secured.

While the introduction of Vote 16 is expected to be supplemented with a strong civic education campaign to ascertain that our younger generation use its vote wisely,I am not confident that this can be achieved if our society still depends, to a large extent, on news released by the two media houses owned by the PL and the PN respectively.

Additionally, most of the House debates are by no means an exemplary exercise in civic dialogue. At times, a handful of novice,and perhaps not so novice, politicians stoop low to stress a point in the House. Most parliamentary debate can hardly be classified as educational.

Unfortunately, our society is highly politicised and most of the pertinent issues are camouflaged by partisan politics which in no way help people form an objective opinion. A case in point is the horrendous daylight murder of seasoned independent journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.  Politicians have failed to show the way forward, and instead of assuming responsibility,most remained cool as a cucumber.  And all the while, major issues which directly have an effect on the quality of life of people areshelved, covered or completely masked with lip-service by the incumbents in public office.  As if this is not bad enough, we will now visit this on 16-year olds.

 

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