Four of Malta's six elected MEPs are women, but only 10 of the 67 House of Representatives are. Does this mean anything? Sarah Carabott spoke to Miriam Dalli and Roberta Metsola on International Women’s Day.

Voters can never elect a gender-balanced Parliament unless the number of female candidates to choose from is bigger, according to the two front runners of the upcoming MEP elections.

When people have a more balanced choice they are given an opportunity to elect their representatives irrelevant of gender, Dr Dalli said. The Labour MEP pointed out that while a quarter of the candidates for the 2014 European Parliament elections were women, only 14 per cent of those running for the national election a year before were female and this dropped again to 11 per cent in 2017.

“How can the electorate elect more female MPs if they are not given a credible choice? How can the electorate choose female MPs if female candidates are fielded on the eve of an electoral campaign? In my opinion, this is not a question of having more female MPs but, rather, of ensuring a balanced representation of society,” she said.

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Dr Dalli believes more women should be attracted to politics, giving them the opportunity to gain experience and become valid candidates. If there were more female candidates, more women representatives would be elected either as MEPs or MPs, she said, adding that this was the idea behind the Labour Party’s Lead initiative, which she was heading.

If the electorate had more female candidates and knew what those candidates stood for, then they would have a wider choice and would not have to continue doubting whether they should choose a man or a woman because, ultimately, it was a choice about who represented constituents best, Dr Dalli added.

Dr Metsola, a Nationalist MEP, also believes there is need for political parties to have “many more” female candidates on their lists: “The issue is not with the electorate not wanting to elect female MPs but, rather, that we do not have nearly enough female candidates on certain districts on a national level. We can and we must do much better on this front.” Dr Metsola admits she hopes people choose to elect her because they think she is the best person for the job and not the best woman for the job.

I hope people choose to elect me because they think I’m the best person for the job and not the best woman for the job – Roberta Metsola

Both Dr Dalli and Dr Metsola have so far sat in the European Parliament and not in the Maltese Parliament. They pointed out that being an MEP was quite a task. Being an MEP meant splitting your weeks between Malta, Brussels and Strasbourg: “You have to shuttle every single week and that is not always easy to do with a family and children, whether you are a man or a woman,” Dr Metsola noted.

For her, it was never a choice of one or the other, adding she felt very strongly about Malta’s place within a strong EU and always thought she could best contribute to advancing the interests of the Maltese people within the European Parliament.

Read: Gender quotas are backed by the Constitution, says equality commission

However, she noted that as an MEP she worked full-time, meaning she could dedicate her time to her constituents, which was a must when your constituency happened to be the whole of Malta and Gozo, rather than a particular electoral district.

Dr Dalli admitted that being an MEP gave her the opportunity to legislate in areas that had an impact on all EU member states. She too pointed out that an MEP had to commute every week between Malta and Brussels or Strasbourg.

“If we do not shock the system, then everything will remain the same” – Miriam Dalli

“I spend a lot of hours at airports and on planes and have to make sure that in the days I am in Malta I cover as much ground and meet as many people as possible. It is a juggling act to ensure I give as much importance as possible to my work in the European Parliament, my work in Malta and my family,” Dr Dalli remarked.

Every career had its advantages and disadvantages and it was futile to compare the working conditions of an MEP to that of a member of Parliament in a member State, irrespective of the gender, she said. 

What had to be ensured, she added, was that the Maltese Parliament was more family friendly, where both male and female MPs had better conditions to help them balance their work and family.

Is it time for Malta to have a full-time Parliament?

Dr Dalli replied there was definitely a need to rethink the way Parliament functioned. If parliamentarians were to act as legislators they had to have the resources and time to do so, she added.

Dr Metsola has a more definitive reply: MPs should have the chance to do their job full-time if they so wished and that should be part and parcel of a whole range of reforms of how the Maltese Parliament functioned.

Would gender quotas work in the Maltese scenario?

Roberta Metsola: No. Quotas simply paper over the cracks, give a false sense of security and do nothing to tackle the underlying problem with female representation in Malta and Gozo. It is regression.

In my view, quotas hold women back and simply lay new barriers for the next generation of women to overcome. Our representatives must be chosen on the basis of votes and merit, not gender. We cannot and should not escape from that principle.

Miriam Dalli: Before 2017, I was of the view that we should not resort to gender quotas. Since the 2017 election, I am convinced that if we do not shock the system, then everything will remain the same. Only yesterday, I was speaking to someone who is against gender quotas because “we have a patriarchal mentality” and it is precisely this situation that I want to challenge.

We should not have a “patriarchal mentality’. We should have a mentality where people who are capable of moving things forward are given a chance to do so irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation, disability or background.

Quotas are only a temporary measure to ensure there are more female role models and for more people to understand you can deliver positive results whatever your gender. We are in this together and if we have the best people representing us as a society then we can be sure we would move forward together as a society

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