Nearly a third of people in Malta still believe that a woman’s main duty is to take care of the home and family and a fifth believe it is the man’s main duty to earn money for the household, a new University of Malta survey has found.

“From afar we are happy to say that we are ready to break the glass ceiling but when it hits us close to home we change tack,” said Andrew Azzopardi, dean of the Faculty of Wellbeing, which commissioned the survey.

The majority of respondents were also of the view that “being a mother is an instinct for women”.

“It’s ok to say that we believe women should be in positions of power but then when it comes to house chores and management of children, the narrative changes and we start quoting nature and nurture as all indicating that women are the best placed to take care of children,” Azzopardi said.

Last year, a study measuring work-life balance, published by the European Institute for Gender Equality, found that among couples with children, women are much more involved in daily care activities (85%) than men (58%).

It was found that around 81% of women do cooking and housework every day for at least one hour per day compared to only 37% of men, while 42% of women care for and educate their family members for at least one hour a day compared to 25% of men. 

Azzopardi said that strong legislation, good social policy and sound empirical research were needed to make the necessary changes in society happen.

There was better news on the gender front when it came to other areas of society.

The vast majority of the 600 respondents surveyed would feel comfortable if their work manager or the prime minister were a woman, with very few disagreeing, the university survey found.

For Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola, who is active on issues of gender equality, the survey results are a sign that, while there is movement in the right direction, Malta needs to work harder and faster.

“We need to encourage role models, we need to keep pushing equality forward and we need to make the path easier,” she told Times of Malta.

“We need examples from our public sector – in terms of education, awareness and responsibility,” she said adding that despite it being the end of 2020, women still need to prove every day that they are worthy of their position.

“Women do face real challenges in politics and in the workplace. Some people point to improved childcare facilities or early parliament hearings as the be-all and end-all of encouraging female participation. They’re not. 

“It is the same with quotas – the danger is that they paper over the cracks but do nothing to create a real, level playing field. What we need is a real paradigm shift in thinking and in culture.”

Former MEP Miriam Dalli, now energy and enterprise minister, said the survey results reflect the need for society to work harder to instil the notion of equality from the primary level of education.

“We must, however, admit that equality is hard to teach to school kids, if most teachers are predominantly female, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) workers are predominantly male,” she said.

She feels a shift in mindset can only be achieved by creating opportunities and directing both male and female students in the direction of STEM careers – the ones that the future is banking on, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development.

“Sadly, we cannot assume that this will happen on its own. We must pave the way with equal incentives for both mothers and fathers at their place of work and pay special attention to our narrative at all times, to never imply that homework is the exclusive remit of the female members of the family.” 

Incentives such as free childcare had started to make a difference, allowing both men and women to join the workforce, she said.

“We must now work to promote freedom of the mind, whereby past inhibitions and specific roles allocated to men or women become a thing of the past.”

Gender equality perceptions 

The survey asked 600 people a range of questions to gauge the public’s perception on gender issues, as part of a series of surveys commissioned by the faculty to keep tabs on society.

Respondents were asked if the woman’s main duty is to take care of the home and the family. 

They scored their replies from 1 to 5, where 1 meant “absolutely disagree”, 2 meant “disagree”, 3 was neutral, 4 meant “agree” and 5 meant “strongly agree”. 

To that question, 32% strongly disagreed and 23% disagreed. But 12% agreed and 18% strongly agreed. Fourteen per cent picked the neutral 3 as their reply. (Figures rounded up to the nearest percentage point).

More men agreed with this statement than women, while young respondents, between the ages of 16 and 25, disagreed the most.

Asked if being a mother is an instinct for women, 56 per cent agreed or strongly agreed, while 24% disagreed or absolutely disagreed.

Asked if they felt comfortable if the prime minister were a woman, the majority (75%) replied “strongly agree” while only two per cent “absolutely disagree”. 

Respondents were also asked whether it was the man’s main duty is to earn money: 62% said they disagreed or strongly disagreed while 21% said they agreed or strongly agreed.

Did they agree with the following statement? Women and men have equal opportunities to advance in their careers. 

A total of 58% said they strongly agreed or agreed, while 23% disagreed or absolutely disagreed. 

On another subject, 46% disagreed that prostitution should be legalised but 39% agreed.

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