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Women and local politics - Erika Bajada

Following Adrian Delia’s swearing in as Opposition leader, one cannot help but observe that the focus has temporarily shifted to his wife, Nickie Vella de Fremeaux. Commentators on social media are only too pleased to remark that, undoubtedly, her beauty is comparable to that of the Prime Minister’s wife. Other insightful comments limited to evaluating her physical appearance ensued.

On the morning of the event, one local online news portal also deemed it fit to report on the great anticipation surrounding the outfit Vella de Fremeaux would be wearing on the evening. It mentioned the talk of the town revolved around the fact that despite being a mother of five children, she still sports an attractive look.

This is a sad realisation of the yardstick that women involved in local politics, whether directly or indirectly, are measured against in the local context: beauty over brains.

I have yet to come across a recent report on the accomplishments Vella de Fremeaux achieved in her own right, which are numerous – in addition to raising a family – throughout her career as a lawyer.

Over the summer, talk of introducing gender quotas in politics has re-emerged, with a view to achieving balanced representation of women and men in Parliament. The barriers to entry for women in politics were analysed, the principal one being society’s expectation that the role of women should be focused on raising their families.

This sorry state of affairs is evidenced by very recent remarks made by concerned citizens on two of Malta’s members of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola and Miriam Dalli, which questioned their ability to pursue a political career without abdicating their duties as wives and mothers.

The fact that enrolment in the academy is limited to females vindicates the perception that women need special coaching to contest local elections

Until such time that gender quotas are implemented, efforts are being made to encourage the participation of women in local politics. This includes the establishment of a Training Academy for Women by the Labour Party, which was set up for the purpose of enticing more women to enter politics.

My personal view on gender quotas is that they are discriminatory in themselves and short-sighted, in that artificially increasing the number of female members of Parliament achieves next to nothing in attempting to counterbalance male-dominated politics in practice.

Taking the 2017 election as an example, despite the fact that both parties attempted to increase their female representation, fewer women were in actual fact elected to Parliament than in the previous legislature.

Moreover, whereas I support training initiatives for aspiring politicians, since it might well augment quality, I consider the fact that enrolment in the academy is limited to females as vindicating the perception that women need special coaching to be in a position to contest local elections.

This is a patronising approach to attracting women to politics. In my opinion, head-hunting existing talent would prove to be more effective in the long run.

Shifting back to more recent events, it is desirable that going forward, women attract the attention of the electorate on the basis of their knowledge and skills, as opposed to their wardrobe choices.

The few women who have ventured into local politics have proved that it is indeed possible to break the glass ceiling.

There are plenty of talented professional women whose input in the domestic political sphere would prove to be of benefit for Malta.

However, if we wish to achieve this aim, a change in the mindset is badly needed.

Erika Bajada is an accountant with a background in financial services regulation, with an interest in local politics.

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