A public consultation document on the “under-represented sex” lists a number of proposed changes aimed at promoting gender equality. Among other things, the “package of laws” being proposed aims at achieving what is being said to be a critical number of 33 per cent of women in Parliament. The whole scope of this ‘corrective’ mechanism was for both sexes to reach at least 40 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives.
It could be argued that achieving such predetermined levels of women representation helps lend legitimacy to governing institutions and provides female role models. Also, more female participation can guarantee that women’s interests are adequately represented and that State institutions will benefit from women’s exclusive leadership styles.
However, competence should always be the overriding factor. It is people of superior competence and substance we need to attract in leadership roles, irrespective of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
The package of laws being proposed seems to want to fast-track the concept of equality to deliver outcomes and numbers immediately. The incremental approach embraces the concept of equality of opportunity or equal treatment and the long-term outcomes seem to be more successful as in the cases of Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The reason for lack of female representation is usually blamed on a patriarchal Western culture, especially by the feminist camps, though some researchers and psychologists dismiss the fact that Western culture is patriarchal. A patriarchal society is defined as consisting of a male-dominated power structure throughout organised society and in individual relationships.
Jordan Peterson, a renowned professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the author of the bestseller 12 rules for life: An antidote to chaos, argues that the fundamental basis of the Western culture, which might appear to be dominated by men and to be patriarchal, is not power but competence and it was only through tyranny that the fundamental relationships between people become dependent on power.
On the other hand, Abeda Sultana, associate professor at the University of Dhaka’s Department of Political Science, defines patriarchy as a system of power dynamics where women are kept dominated and subordinate and, thus, prioritises men in both public and private spaces.
Irrespective of these opposing views, gender inequality is a reality. In Malta, female participation in politics is far from the desired levels. Political parties struggle to put forward female candidates. Out of the 377 candidates in the last general election, only 42 were women, worse than in 2013. The Maltese Parliament ranks low in terms of gender equality in Europe though half of our MEPs are women.
Eleven EU member states will have gender quotas in next month’s European elections. In addition, Greece will require at least 33 per cent of each gender on the list of candidates and Luxembourg insists it should be half and half, as in the case of Italy.
To be healthy, the discussion should not centre solely around the introduction of quotas and how to increase female participation at all levels come what may. This country must seek an environment that sees more people – including, of course, women – of integrity and competence deciding to enter the world of politics and use their competence to gradually pull us out of the political mess we seem to be wading in.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial
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