This year was my first opportunity, as minister responsible for equality, tocommemorate International Women’s Day.
As father of a young girl (who incidentally celebrates her birthday on that very day) all this, for me, had a very special and personal significance.
The 8th of March has been internationally celebrated for over 100 years and it has become a landmark in the annual calendar.
Equality for women and men can only be achieved through the provision of equal access to opportunities, power and resources.
In line with the International Women’s Day theme chosen by the United Nations, we are committed to working for gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow for the benefit of all families, businesses and society at large.
Safeguarding gender equality is indeed a relentless commitment for the government and important developments were achieved over the years. As confirmed by the European Gender Equality Index, Malta registered the second highest progress on gender equality across the EU since 2010.
In fact, various initiatives have been undertaken to ensure that women can thrive in our society. Economic independence is key for women to be able to reach their aspirations and to have full control of their lives.
Measures to encourage women to enter or remain in the labour market resulted in a significant increase in the participation of women in employment. These included fiscal incentives for women returners, the free childcare scheme for parents in work and education, the Maternity Leave Trust to combat discrimination in access to employment and the First Remote Working Policy for the public service, which all succeeded in supporting numerous women workers.
Furthermore, in order for women to make best use of their opportunities, they need to feel safe and protected against abuse. It was in this context that the legislative framework was strengthened on aspects that impinge directly on women’s lives.
These legal provisions, which included femicide in the Criminal Code, were tabled and discussed in parliament. Such amendments seek to encourage the judiciary to take into account violence against women, because they are women, when handing down sentences on wilful homicide.
The voice of women is being strengthened in the decision-making process of our country- Owen Bonnici
This initiative followed other important landmark developments that endeavoured to combat gender-based violence and domestic violence.
Malta was one of the first countries to ratify the Istanbul Convention providing better protection to victims and imposing harsher penalties for perpetrators through the gender-based violence and domestic violence act.
Moreover, acknowledging the increasing scourge of domestic violence during the pandemic, a new police unit was inaugurated so that cases would be handled by a team of professionals.
The voice of women is being strengthened in the decision-making process of our country. Indeed, we have seen more women appointed to decision-making positions, particularly in the public sector and in the judiciary.
The political sphere is also being addressed with the enactment of legal provisions introducing a gender corrective mechanism in the electoral system with the aim of addressing the current democratic deficit in the representation of women and men in parliament.
To sustain and further develop these achievements, work is well underway on the drawing up of a gender equality and mainstreaming strategy and action plan to ensure that gender equality is further strengthened through a holistic approach.
Day after day, we declare our continued commitment to taking all the necessary steps to ensure that the role of women in society is equally recognised through providing further empowerment for them to achieve their aspirations and venture into new opportunities in a just and equal society.