The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

Gender quotas: A power-sharing dream? Or an insult to women?

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 17 January 2021, 08:38 Last update: about 3 months ago

Why would a woman want to enter politics? Because it would be an ‘easy ride’ to Parliament should the gender mechanism quota kick in? I speak from experience, as a female general election candidate, that with or without the gender equality mechanism, whether or not to enter into politics was one of the toughest decisions of my life.

It would not be completely true to say that this amendment to the law did not affect my decision, but the thought process was more on the lines of how this will affect my family, and what I want to achieve; thoughts that anyone entering the political arena has, regardless of their gender.

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Having said this, unfortunately, I was concerned as to have how I would ‘cope’ being a woman in politics. Being an engineer by profession, working in a very male-dominated environment, I know firsthand that gender barriers are real.  During my studies, and in over 10 years working in the field of engineering, there have been numerous sexist comments, some explicit and some less intentional. But the reality is that our culture, along with that of many other countries, still allows for gender stereotyping.

Many a time, gender stereotyping is mostly subconscious, in that we, and by we, I mean all of society, expect each gender to fill certain roles in society. To say the situation has not improved over the past decade or so would be unfair, but the reality is that, largely, the family responsibilities are perceived to ‘belong’ to the woman, at least on some level.

Because of the situation women find themselves in, gender quotas in parliament are an incentive to encourage some women who are at the tipping point to take the plunge. But such quotas alone will not change anything in the long term.

Statistics show that women who contested the general election in Malta performed slightly better than their male counterparts. But will the gender quotas in parliament encourage significantly more women to contest a general election? I doubt it. Anyone entering politics would do so because it is ingrained in their very being, not because of quotas.

Only a cultural and societal shift would make a difference in the number of women contesting. Government needs to take concrete steps to facilitate a paradigm shift, but I believe unless women are better represented in parliament, then such changes will not take place, or at least not at the pace necessary.

What results, therefore, is a causality dilemma - women need to be in parliament for change to take place but to get women to parliament, we need change. Considering we are one of the worst countries for women’s political participation in the EU I think, short term, gender quotas will ensure that women are at least represented. Gender quotas should not be deemed as undemocratic or to dimmish women’s capabilities but an unfortunate, temporary measure, applied by half of the countries of the world, required to compensate for actual barriers women face.

But I do hope this is not some political ploy, with no real changes to take place. Women need to feel empowered; they need to know they have to the option to do whatever it is they want to do… and the same goes for men. We need to move away from the roles society has engrained into us and let each individual, or family, decide what is best for them.

For this to happen, we need a holistic approach starting from education, to family-friendly measures, to more female and male role models. Gender quotas for boards and working groups, which are very different from quotas for positions stemming from electoral processes, are essential.

We each have our own capabilities, whatever they may be, regardless of sex, age, race, and sexual orientation. The state needs to provide an environment where these capabilities can be nourished and exploited, so as nothing can stop anyone from doing whatever it is they wish to do.

 

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