A woman’s rightful place - Roberta Metsola

A woman’s rightful place - Roberta Metsola

The climb is steeper, but we cannot be silent

All too often, women find their paths blocked as they move up the career ladder. Photo: Shutterstock

All too often, women find their paths blocked as they move up the career ladder. Photo: Shutterstock

One of the greatest privileges of my life has been to be a representative of the people of Malta and Gozo in the European Parliament – more so to have been one of the first women elected to represent at the same time as Claudette Abela Baldacchino and Marlene Mizzi.

Politics is not a walk in the park; being a woman in politics does not make it easier. In 2018, we still need to prove every day that we are worthy of the position – that we can do the job as well (sometimes better) than many men. It is something that cuts across party lines. In the general elections in Malta that have taken place since women got the vote, fewer than 80 women have contested. The number of men, on the other hand, exceeded 1,000. It is dismal.

Agatha Barbara contested 10 general elections, she was often dismissed, but she kept going and kept getting re-elected. Now I’m not a particular fan of her politics, to put it mildly, but her role has to be acknowledged. In 1980, the Nationalist Party elected our first female MP – Anne Agius Ferrante – and yet how many of us know their stories? These are the women in politics who put up with so much so that women like me could stand up for our country in the European Parliament today.

We have improved but we are still in a situation where women on average in Malta earn €1,700 a year less than men for the same job. It is unfair and must be consigned to the pages of history books.

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When I was first elected (and now still) I was extremely aware of that young girl in Birżebbuġa, Qormi or Xagħra looking at politics as something that had became an avenue for them too – who could see that representing their country may be something that is not an avenue reserved only for their fathers or brothers anymore.

It is a responsibility that weighs heavily.

I was fortunate to grow up with the mantra that if you work hard enough, want it enough and you are ready to climb that mountain, nothing can hold you back – not your gender, not your background.

But it is very true that the climb is steeper. We still face challenges that are unfair, but when enough of us come together to demand change, we can finally have a level playing field.

The notion of quota-imposed token women does not help our cause. It is regression

Being a female politician is not about only speaking about traditional “women’s issues”, but we do have a particular responsibility to speak out for other women irrespective of the political divide.

So we cannot be silent when a senior police officer headbutts his partner to the ground and is excused.

We cannot be silent when a member of Parliament threatens to find and beat up a fellow female MP in Parliament and nothing happens.

We cannot be silent when female journalists are denigrated, killed and vilified even in death.

We cannot be silent when people write letters saying a female politician’s place is in the kitchen or that we should be burnt alive. We disagree on issues, sometimes fundamental ones, but we would be failing in our duty if we were to not to do our bit to clear the path for those who come next.

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. They are applying a Band-Aid to a gaping wound.

Much has been said and written about gender quotas in politics and in boardrooms. The notion of quota-imposed token women does not help our cause. It is regression. The danger is that they’re used as a smokescreen and hide the underlying issue. 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.

We need political parties to do more, much more, to encourage female candidates to put themselves forward, and we need companies to do more to ensure women are given all the same opportunities – but our representatives in politics and in boardrooms must be chosen on the basis of votes and merit, not gender.

Only then will we all be able to see what should be self-evident, that a woman’s place is truly heading a company or standing up in Parliament.


Roberta Metsola is a Nationalist Party MEP.

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