The Malta Independent 9 December 2019, Monday

Malta has third-lowest percentage of female representatives in Parliament

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 10 November 2019, 08:00 Last update: about 28 days ago

Malta has the third lowest percentage of female representatives in Parliamentary lower or unicameral chambers compared to 41 other European and neighbouring countries (including Israel and Turkey), according to a recently released report by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR).

The 41 countries included in the report include all the EU member countries, as well as most of the Council of Europe’s member states.

CEMR is the oldest and broadest European association of local and regional governments. “We are the only organisation that brings together the national associations of local and regional governments from 41 European countries and represents, through them, all levels of territories – local, intermediate and regional,” according to their website.

The report, called Women in Politics: Local and European Trends states that – taking all the countries reviewed into consideration – at the current rate it would take 107 years to close the gender gap.

The report reveals that an average 28.5 per cent of members of parliamentary assemblies in Europe are women. “This average is much lower than the proportion of women in the European Parliament (40.3 per cent), but roughly equivalent to that of women elected at local level (28.9 per cent).

“Proportionally speaking, the countries having the least number of women elected to the lower or single chamber of parliaments today are: Ukraine (10.9 per cent), Hungary (12.1 per cent), Malta (14.9 per cent), Georgia (16 per cent) and Turkey (17.3 per cent),” the report read.

Compared to 2008, the data on women in national parliaments shows forward movement in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Balkans. It also shows that, back in 2008, 8.7 per cent of Malta’s Parliament consisted of women, showing a subsequent rise.

The report also highlights the situation at municipality council level, saying that whilst some progress has been made over the last ten years, women are still under-represented and that the situation in local and regional government is of particular concern, highlighting that in Europe today, only 15.4 per cent of mayors are women.  “The average proportion of women in local councils remains stuck below 30 per cent (28.9 per cent).”

In terms of local councils, Malta does not fair much better than it did at national level, with the eighth lowest percentage of women representatives. “Today, there are 13 countries in which women account for 20 to 30 per cent of the municipal councils (or equivalent). In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Romania and Turkey, the proportion of female locally elected representatives remains below 20 per cent. This applied to 14 countries in the 2008 study.” In 2019, Malta’s percentage stood at 22 per cent compared to 18.7 per cent in 2008.

The report also studied Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), finding that the percentage of women MEPs is higher than the European average for the national parliaments and local and regional councils. “Following the May 2019 elections, women now account for 40.3 per cent of the assembly elected by European citizens for the 2019-2024 term. In the preceding term (2014-2019), there were 37 per cent of women members and prior to that (2009-2014), 34.9 per cent.” In Malta currently, three of the six MEPs are women.

“It is noteworthy that Malta did not have any women members in 2008, but today they make up half of its delegation. Luxembourg previously only had one woman among its six members, but today women represent half of its members,” the report explains.

The document tries to analyse the possible setbacks in political equality and the causes, reading that women and men are still not on an equal footing in the economic, social and political arenas.

 “In Europe, women’s employment rate is 11 per cent lower than that of men, and the average gap between wages is 16 per cent. Even before the added difficulties of gaining access to decision-making positions and integrating boards of directors in large companies, women are more likely than men to be victims of poverty and represent almost 85 per cent of single-parent households in the EU.”

It goes on to highlight “the violence that still prevails in relations between women and men and the cases of femicide now reported daily are a wake-up call to society regarding the gravity of the situation. In 2011, the Council of Europe adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).”

The report highlights that women in politics are also often subjected to harassment and violence. “A poll conducted among women members of parliament published in 2016 shone a light on the fact that at least 50 per cent of the respondents (from different countries, backgrounds, ages, positions and parties) had received insults or threats on account of their sex and/or because they worked in politics.”

The report argues that the rise of populism and the extreme right has resulted in a decline regarding women’s rights. “There has been a growing subtext that defending and mobilising for equality are no longer a high-priority combat given the advancements of the last few decades.

“Equality issues have been disappearing from political agendas and even sexual and reproductive health rights have been called into question in Europe.”  It does, however, say that there have been positive steps forward as well when it comes to public denunciation and condemnation of crimes and harassment against women.

 

Tools being used to try and achieve balance

Among the tools and rules intended to support women’s participation in politics, the most well-known and widely used mechanism is the use of quotas, according to the report. “Quotas lay down requirements that each sex be represented by at least a given minimum proportion, whether on a list of candidates, in an assembly or as part of a government. A growing number of countries currently use this mechanism. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 127 countries around the world have introduced laws or rules establishing quotas, either legislatively, electorally or internally in the case of political parties.”

The report poses the question: “...given their increasing success, can it be said that quotas are effective? Such an assertion would amount to a hasty and wishful conclusion, particularly in the case where the analysis, content and scope of the quotas as well as various outside parameters and factors particular to each country are not duly taken into account.

“Each situation is different and warrants a thorough analysis. Nevertheless, if it is merely a question of making a cursory broad-based evaluation of the impact of quotas, it can be said that they appear to have had a positive effect on the proportion of women elected representatives.”

It highlights the success of quotas at all levels in terms of boosting female participation numbers. “For the 16 countries with mandatory quotas at national level, the proportion of elected women increased from 20.9 per cent to 29.5 per cent  (+8.6 per cent). In the countries without mandatory quotas, this proportion went from 22.5 per cent to 27.8 per cent.”

The report, however, also identifies Nordic countries. The study shows that the five Nordic countries can boast results well above the European average, without statutory mandatory quotas. This group of countries comes closer in parity than any other in the study.

In the concluding remarks, the report says that: “The overall analysis of women’s participation in politics at all levels in Europe attests to the effectiveness of quotas, as seen in the figures, and indicates encouraging progress. The combat for equality has therefore made it past a crucial stage: graduating from political discourse to genuine policy initiatives and measures fostering equality.

“Quotas seem to be emerging as a sure and effective instrument for securing this change. Yet, reality is ever-present to remind us that quotas alone are not enough to overcome the inequalities between women and men in acceding to decision-making positions or, at any rate, establishing a state of long-term equality. There are many factors that influence the participation of women in politics and accompanying support measures are necessary and helpful in eliminating gender-based obstacles.”

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