International Women's Day 2018
Public Debate - Women in Politics and Women in Media
An event on gender equality in the political and media spheres, organised by the European Parliament Liaison Office in Malta took place at the University of Malta on Friday 2nd March 2018 and featured Maltese MEPs Roberta Metsola (EPP), Miriam Dalli (S&D) Francis Zammit Dimech (EPP), Marlene Mizzi (S&D), Sylvana Denobo, Editor-in-Chief RTK Radio and Brenda Murphy, Head of the Department of Gender Studies at the University of Malta. The event was moderated by Rachel Attard, Editor-in-Chief at Standard Publications.
WOMEN IN POLITICS AND WOMEN IN THE MEDIA
2ND MARCH 2018 AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MALTA
PUBLIC DISCUSSION ORGANISED BY THE EP VALLETTA OFFICE IN COOPERATION WITH THE GENDER STUDIES DEPARTMENT AND SUPPORTED BY THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN AND THE MALTA CONFEDERATION OF WOMEN'S ORGANISATIONS
A lively debate with strong public participation highlighted the failure of the Maltese society to achieve improvement in women’s representation in politics and the media in the past 70 years.
Women in elected political office have increased by only 4% since the 1950s, MEPs said, noting that the good female representation for Malta in the European Parliament at the moment (50%) does not necessarily mean women have really made it in politics. In fact only 10 out of 67 national MPs in Malta are women, placing Malta second-to-last in political representation by women in the EU. When it comes to media in Malta, only 16% of decision-making roles are held by women, as evidenced by a 2018 report for the EP’s FEMM Committee on gender in the media sector.
Temporary gender quotas were presented as the solution during the debate with a big audience of mixed genders and age groups. Those speaking up in favour noted that the current system is geared to favour men, that quotas have been used successfully in Ireland, which has a similar electoral system, and that quotas have been used for race and other groups. Quotas were seen as needed to even the playing field, so women will have the same opportunities and conditions, whereas at the moment they need to work “four times harder” and may even be “paid less for the same work” as men, participants said, some bringing up personal experiences. Panellist Brenda Murphy suggested a change in semantics: “let’s call them 'strategies for ensuring gender equality' instead of quotas”.
MEPs had mixed views on quotas. Miriam Dalli was open to discussing how quotas could be useful to bring change in our society. On the other hand, Roberta Metsola and Marlene Mizzi expressed their opposition to such quotas. For Metsola, the system might be counterproductive and she also questioned how temporary these quotas would in reality be. Similarly, Mizzi held that while she understands why those who support quotas feel the need to establish them, she respects women and their capability enough not to agree with giving them a place just for the sake of being women. For Francis Zammit Dimech the solution was not quotas but targeting women’s under-representation at the roots. Political parties, he said, should strive to field more female candidates in elections, since the number of female candidates tends to reflect the number of elected women.
Training women for the world of politics is essential for the National Council of Women, that argued that this would not only prepare women for contesting elections, but also for handling stereotypes and failure to be elected, so that they are not disheartened and refrain from contesting elections again, as happens in many instances.
For the media sector, RTK Radio’s Editor-in-Chief Sylvana Debono stressed not only the lack of women but the lack of new journalists, noting that many give up quickly as they seem unwilling to put in the hard work, the hours, and the dedication needed to be a journalist, especially when they can have easier and better paid jobs. Questioned - by another of the very few women in top positions in Maltese media, the Independent newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Rachel Attard who moderated the debate - whether the recent murder of journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia would encourage more girls to go into journalism and the media, Debono responded that it should, but this was doubtful as Caruana Galizia was subject to a degree of dehumanization that, she believes, a male blogger would never have been subjected to.
According to the FEMM study’s findings, women in the media in Malta are labouring in a contested space, with not only a predominance of men in decision-making roles but also an increasing pay gap generally in Malta and specifically in the media industry.
Key factors for the lack of equality of women in the media are the invisibility or wrong visibility of women, with little space for them in the news and generally reported with stereotypes such as ‘married with children’; ‘lookism’ – where female politicians get scrutinised for what they wear or how they look; gender speech, where men and women get reported in different ways; and similarly, distinctive frames when talking about women in politics. All these points proved to be very relevant shared concerns raised throughout the discussion, which raised a lot of strong opinions and calls for more action for women.