The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

Gender equality will not come from token feminism

Peter Agius Sunday, 12 May 2019, 09:28 Last update: about 14 days ago

Since EU accession especially, Malta has made strides to modernise its economy and society that anchored it in the group of the so-called developed world. Developed countries pride themselves on providing equal opportunities to all their citizens. In some areas, Malta can be considered a model, not least on civil rights. It would seem, however, that we are still far from addressing the part of equality which would seem so basic to start with – that between men and women in the workplace.

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Recent statistics on the gender pay gap shows a widening discrimination in salaries of 10.6 per cent between men and women for the same jobs in Malta. What is more worrying is that, in the last five years, the gap has widened rather than reduced, considering that in 2011 it stood at 7.7 per cent. As the Director-General of the President’s Foundation for the Well-being of Society rightly said on Malta’s equal pay day last year, in practical terms, Maltese women work for nothing from November up to the end of the year.

Addressing the gap is not easy, and it will not come through token initiatives such as the Government’s announcement of an additional 12 seats in Parliament. This Government’s track record on gender equality jars heavily with the way it tries to depict itself as a progressive feminist government. While it invests in selling that to us, statistics of its handling of administrative boards show that female participation on boards was halved during the six years of Labour government from 30 to 15 per cent.

But enough with the government reality check. I am running as an MEP candidate with the Nationalist Party to propose solutions, to show how the PN can be better than Labour, for the sake of results for all our citizens. Our European membership can be an important vector towards that.

An EU Directive on work-life balance was recently adopted, drafted for the European Parliament by Nationalist Party MEP David Casa. This Directive can be a game-changer right where change needs to start – at home. I am a parent of three children myself and know full well how difficult it can be to balance work with family duties which, all too often, fall more heavily on the female partner. By increasing fathers’ leave to 10 days on birth and two months for parenting, the Directive empowers the father’s share of caring responsibility in the household and towards their children. This may seem a small improvement, but it can go a long way towards triggering the change needed for women to take what is their due by right: equal opportunities including equal pay for equal work and equal career progression.

Going back to the most feminist government in history, I was therefore slightly surprised to see that the Honourable Minister Helena Dalli declared that government will take its time to scrutinise, analyse, ponder and consider how and when to put the work-life balance Directive into effect in Malta. Over the last eight months, since I accepted the call to be a candidate for the European Elections, I have been contacted by many young fathers and mothers – and those soon to be so – asking eagerly about the said Directive. They expected the rights mentioned to be available for their families forthwith. I had to explain that the Minister needs her time. I do not think we should let these families down. In view of the serious situation with the gender pay gap, and of our last placing on the graph for women in top management, we need to implement the Directive forthwith.

If it really cares for gender balance, rather than floating the 12 extra seats smokescreen, government should immediately launch a public discussion involving employers and unions to implement the 10 days paternity leave and two months parental leave with effect from the end of this year. Most importantly, the new rights for parents should be introduced without impinging on our smaller businesses which are already under pressure from decreasing competitiveness due to internet competition and diminishing retail figures.

 

Dr Peter Agius, PN candidate for the European elections, former Head of the European Parliament Office and Cabinet member of the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani

 

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