GRTU as the national business organisation representing the interest of SMEs has participated in the consultation exercise - ‘Gender Balance in Parliament Reform’ that seeks to make changes to the composition of our Parliament.
GRTU welcomes the consultation paper and the policy initiative that is being taken. GRTU acknowledges that serious effort and commitment is required in order to overcome the remaining hurdles and obstacles that are holding, not just women, but valid individuals of any gender that cannot participate in politics with the aim of becoming MPs because being an MP with the current conditions is today very difficult.
There are a number of radical changes, proposed in the same consultation document, that must be further strengthened and exhausted before one considers making changes to our constitution to change the composition of our most important democratic institution – Parliament, on the basis of gender.
The gender corrective mechanism is not what females or anyone else interested in politics needs. What is needed is a real chance to make this opportunity a reality. Current conditions for MPs force them to dedicate their life to politics and setting aside full-time career aspirations and their families. This is the real hurdle keeping not just women but all valid individuals that want to choose to be active and present in their families and pursue a career that will help them not to struggle financially. It is inhumane to ask from our MPs to stay at work because their pay at Parliament just cannot sustain them, then, after work hours, be an MP and dedicate him/herself to politics and then also be an active parent.
GRTU CEO Abigail Mamo said that 'This problem affects women mostly because traditionally they are the primary care givers and that is a reality. Therefore, choosing a life where they have to be most of the time away from their family is of course harder. What will the gender corrective mechanism fix in this regard? The answer is statistics and ranking. This will only result in one less reason to pursue and eradicate the obstacles that are keeping women away from Parliament, because on paper gender balance would have been achieved, cosmetically. That is not the advancement we women or our society deserves'.
As the consultation document itself outlines MPs should have the opportunity to pursue their political career full time. Their remuneration should reflect their responsibility and, being our decision makers, they should have their own secretariat and researchers to support their work. Those that are parents should be able to have time for their kids and family and therefore the hours of Parliament must reflect this and child minding support introduced. These are the radical changes that will make a difference on how many women feature on our ballot sheet.
The problem is not the voter. The gender corrective mechanism will be applied to correct voters' choice when the voter is not really biased against women. Statistics show amply that voters vote for women. In the last general election voters voted for women in almost the same proportion they voted for men. 19% of all men on the ballot paper and 14% of all women on the ballot paper were elected. If one had to look into greater detail in the numbers, the discrepancy is less than 5%. The situation is markedly different with the members for the European Parliament elections. In the last two EP elections the voter choice for women surpass greatly the choice of males; by 20% in the latest EP election. Where is this big discrepancy that will necessitate doctoring the composition of our parliament?
We need to do more to attract women to be candidates and this is done if women can consider this as a viable option. The consultation document even puts incentives for parties to carry projects to bring more women on our ballot sheets through financial incentives, another very innovative and radical proposal.
One must also consider how the quota or gender corrective mechanism will impact the perception of women, especially those women elected through the system. GRTU CEO Abigail Mamo added that 'there is nothing more demeaning than being the token female. I work in what was traditionally a male dominated environment that today has changed a lot in this sense. I am in my position based on merit and have had to prove myself like anyone occupying such positions. I cannot imagine what it would have been like for me personally to be placed in my position just for being female. Apart from feeling ridiculed I would have had a tough time proving my worth and changing people's perception of me that I am not just female but also worthy in occupying my position. I am no exception, I am only proof that the society we live in has changed and women are not prejudiced as they used to be in the past'.
On a final note GRTU believes that now that we have reached a state of progress where individuals can even choose not to associate with any gender and real effort is being put to treat everyone equally, basing a corrective mechanism on gender sets our country a good number of steps back, not forward.