The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

Collective equity or individual equality?

Jeremy Micallef Saturday, 9 February 2019, 10:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

The feminist movement has made great strides over the past few years, although some say that the message has somewhat changed. Jeremy Micallef speaks to the Commissioner of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) Renee Laiviera on the various facets of feminism and the distinction between equality and equity.

What is the role of the NCPE?

We investigate cases of discrimination, and we also help people who would like to know what their rights are and help them open cases on an individual basis.

We also promote equality through training, awareness-raising activities, and research, particularly with the use of media so that people know that we are here to provide them a service and ensure that Maltese society is free from discrimination.


Focusing on 'gender equality', what would your definition of the term be?

To see women and men enjoying the same opportunities and a level playing field for both of them.

At the moment, the status quo is definitely not a level playing field, and we are working to create that in order for them to develop their abilities and progress in their careers or lifestyles.

Just to clarify, when you say a 'level playing field', you mean in society, and not from a legal standpoint...?

If we look at the laws, there may be a few that still need addressing with regard to discrimination, but most laws have been addressed. Now, there may be laws which are not used all that often and, therefore, discrimination is not that pronounced.

As soon as we see a problem, then we try to push for change, but most laws have been addressed. In fact, even at EU level, we do not only talk about legislation because legislation is in place. Now we have to focus on implementation.

This administration has made gender equality a priority, and the laws implemented have actually caused Malta to go down the Global Gender Gap Index rather than up.

First of all, we have to understand what the index is doing.

The index is not registering development in a particular country, but it looks at the gaps between women and men in each country. This means that if, let's say, there is a 50 per cent unemployment rate, specifically 50 per cent for men and 50 per cent for women, then there is no gap.

Therefore you get the highest mark.

But while there is high employment in Malta, there is still a 20 to 25 per cent gap between women and men in employment. So although there is nearly full employment, it will register a lesser mark because of the gap between women and men.

 To clarify, your conclusion is that the gap shouldn't be there?

Of course, and that is what we are working towards.

As countries become more economically prosperous and there is more freedom of choice, can this gap be the result of free will?

This not free will. You mentioned the labour market... we had a very big gap between women's and men's participation in the labour market.

Things like free child care have made it possible to level the playing field because our patriarchal society still puts the responsibility of child rearing on women.

In fact, women's participation has increased by two per cent over the past 5 years.

More women entering the labour market has also caused the Gender Wage Gap to widen. This means that, on average, women have gone into occupations that pay less. Is this something else that needs to be addressed?

Before child care, if you looked at women in well-paid jobs, they remained in the labour market because they could afford to pay for child care.

When child care was made free, mothers with low pay now found that it made sense for them to go into the labour market. Even if you've been away from the labour market for a long time, then you enter in a lower bracket, which means that the Gender Wage Gap is going to be influenced.

However, when you look at the earnings, the gap has narrowed because there are more women earning money.

So while the gap has widened, the earnings has narrowed.

So why does the focus seem to be on the Wage Gap rather than the Earnings Gap, when a widening Gender Gap isn't inherently a bad thing? My point being, is the Wage Gap the result of discrimination or the result of free will?

It's the result of many things.

For example, if you look at decision making positions, the Pay Gap is 28 per cent, and this is something that is very worrying.

The Pay Gap may be due to the perks - we know that at that level there are a lot of contracts, so you don't see what there is in the contracts; the perks that are included for men and women. But, when you look at their income, you can tell that there has been a difference in spite of the fact that people are all in that bracket.

There is also the segregation of the labour market which is a result of the segregation in education. We find that women are usually in careers that are not as high paying as men because they are encouraged to go into the caring professions.

And is that the overwhelming reason why they go into those professions?

That is one of the reasons, yes, because this is the way they are brought up.

Do you recognise that there is a natural reason why that happens?

No, no, no, it has nothing to do with... why natural?

For almost a century, psychologists have found that there are natural and social reasons...

Yes, nature versus nurture, but what does nature have to do with that? This is everything to do with gender - the social construct of women and men.

So almost a billion years of evolutionary history...

No, no, this is not about a billion years of evolutionary history.

There has been 70 years of feminist and sociological theory which has found these results.

And that is why we are saying that this is about nurture - because the patriarchal society that we live in has prepared us for one type of mentality.

That is why when you look at the Scandinavian countries, where they have focused on equality in legislation since the 1970s, the situation is different.

In Sweden, one of the most forward-thinking countries in terms of progressive laws for gender equality, the disparity in occupations between men and women is growing rather than decreasing..

I haven't seen that statistic I'm afraid, so I can't comment on that. And I haven't heard it in my discussions with my colleagues when I go abroad.

The mentality is changing, but when you look at how girls and boys are brought up, all you have to do is go to a toy shop.

Even if you ask for an educational game, the first thing that you are asked is whether it is for a boy or for a girl; either pink or blue.

So how can we say that we are not directing our children?

Recently, one of the bigger toy shops decided to stop this segregation of toys and let the children come in, and find whatever toy they would like to play with - and this is where we need to go.

Let the children decide for themselves.

Let's get into feminism as a movement. Second Wave feminists wanted to be seen as equals in the eyes of the law, so the message has changed a bit since then. To get straight to the main difference, do you think that men or women should be given equal legal rights or do you think that rights should be equitable?

I think that there should be equality between women and men, except in those areas where there needs to be positive action.

For example, maternity leave. I mean, I remember reading an article which said maternity leave was discriminatory. How can this be?

First of all, only women give birth to children, and even when there is adoption, there is maternity leave for those circumstances as well.

These are actions which need to be taken in order to ensure that there is a level playing field.

You don't think people should have equal rights, as groups, but equitable rights?

I do believe that there should be equal rights, but I also believe that you need to take action to create a level playing field.

If men cannot give birth to children, then I cannot treat men as women because they don't give birth to children. When men start giving birth to children, then they will have paternity leave.

Isn't that oxymoronic?

No, it's not. If men cannot have children, then how can they leave to have a child? They can't.

We're talking about equity or equality, and I'm talking about equity.

So you want equitable rights, and not equal rights?

Yes, that's it.

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