Parliament opens debate on bill seeking to increase number of women MPs

Updated 08:02 PM

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Parliament has opened debate on a constitutional reform which seeks to increase the number and proportion of women in Parliament with the help of a corrective mechanism.

The proposed mechanism would come into place if women – or men, though women have always accounted for a low proportion of MPs in Parliament to date – account for less than 40% of Parliament.

In this case, the number of MPs of the under-represented sex will be increased until they represent no more than 40%. Up to 12 MPs can be appointed through this mechanism.

The additional MPs would be divided among government and opposition according to the general election results. The best-performing unsuccessful election candidates would be appointed, with co-option as a last resort if not enough candidates of the under-represented sex are fielded by the relevant party.

By design, the mechanism would be temporary – it has been drafted to expire after 20 years have elapsed – and Prime Minister Robert Abela said that it would serve as a catalyst to increase the political participation of women.

MP Claudette Buttigieg confirmed that the Opposition would be voting in favour of the amendments – since they amend the Constitution, the support of a number of Opposition MPs is required. But she added that amendments would be presented to address a number of anomalies.

Gender quotas not enough – KNŻ

In its reaction to the bill, the National Youth Council of Malta (KNŻ) said that it recognised the importance of having more women in Parliament, and understood that gender quotas may help bring this about.

But it added that it strongly believed that such quotas “will not be to overcome institutionalised discrimination that prevent a representative parliament.”

The KNŻ said that women who make it to Parliament through quotas could end up undermined by the fact that they needed extra help to get elected, exposing them to political attacks. This risked discouraging women from contesting, or cause excessive pressure on those who do to prove they deserve their position.

Additionally, the council pointed out that quotas would do little to change voter mentality, stating that efforts to increase diverse representation in Parliament should focus on encouraging more people to contest elections and improving civic education.

It also highlighted that the proposal seemed to undermine previous laws recognising genders outside the binary system by focusing solely on men and women.