Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book

Gender mainstreaming in Malta
Sue Vella MSc, Malta Ministry for Social Policy

It can safely be said that the promotion of gender equality is today an accepted wisdom. The concept of equality has evolved with time. Perhaps the most pronounced policy shift in recent years has been one from an equality defined as equal treatment of the sexes, based however on a normatively male lifestyle, to one where equality has been broadened to encompass and adjust for the differences in lifestyle between women and men. Under this paradigm, women's childbearing function and their greater propensity to care for children and elderly relatives, is taken into account in policies and practices such that it does not serve to disadvantage women.

As the acceptance and management of diversity has come to be seen as essential to productive and sustainable social progress, so women and men are seen as having equally valuable roles in both the public and private domains. In a number of countries, measures were introduced to enable women's participation in public life as well as to enable men to assume those domestic responsibilities traditionally assumed by women. However, gender-specific measures have not been found sufficient if a true valuing of difference is to come about - it is the norm that must be gender-friendly. Hence the need to bring equality issues into mainstream policy and practice.

International commitment to mainstreaming
At the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, governments across the world adopted a Platform for Action that involved the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in all their policies and programmes. This adoption implied three key commitments:

• recognition on the part of governments worldwide that policies and programmes, while often appearing gender-blind, may in fact indirectly discriminate against women;

• acceptance of the need for a systematic analysis of this differential impact to precede and inform all decision-making processes and to track their outcomes;

• enabling of the requisite skills such as advocacy and networking to bring the results of such analysis to bear upon the planning and implementation of government activities.

Six months after the Beijing Conference, the commitment to mainstreaming was reinforced, in the adoption by the European Union, of a communication that called upon members to take a mainstream perspective in all its policies and activities.(1)

Also in 1995, the Commonwealth Plan of Action on Gender and Development sought to establish and reinforce the institutional mechanisms for bringing a gender perspective into all government activities. In 1998, the group of specialists appointed by the Council of Europe to survey mainstreaming measures, submitted its report.(2) This report included a broad overview of best practices in various countries and developed its own conceptual framework and mainstreaming methodology. The report was subsequently disseminated to member states. The forthcoming sections provide an overview of women in Malta, its national machinery and mainstreaming initiatives to date.

Malta is a Mediterranean island in Southern Europe with a population of 378,000. It is a small, open economy that enjoys substantial foreign investment, an ongoing privatisation programme and well-established services and manufacturing sectors. The island's geographical location has always provided a pivotal link between the European and Mediterranean regions, and Malta still makes optimal use of this opportunity for transportation and other circulation services in the region. Malta's current application to join the European Union should enable the island to provide the structures for flexible entry to the large European market. Realising that its few natural resources require it to make optimal use of its human resources, Malta has developed a multi-skilled and productive workforce.

Female participation in Malta
Malta's national awareness of the importance of its human resources is reflected by a progressive increase in the labour market participation of women over the last fifteen years, rising from 27.6 per cent in 1983 to 34.5 per cent in 1995.(3) A number of measures in recent years have facilitated this increase, most notably:

• free of charge kindergartens for children over three years of age;

• improvement of the conditions of work of part-timers;

• one year parental leave;

• career breaks of up to three years for male and female employees in the public sector for child-rearing purposes;

• separate income tax assessments for married couples;

• summer school programmes for pupils in primary schools;

• the setting up of a state-funded childcare centre for children of working parents;

• reduced working hours for full-time public sector employees with caring responsibilities;

• granting of responsibility leave for public sector employees to enable them to care for dependent elderly parents, dependent disabled children and dependent spouses;

• the establishment of regulations protecting pregnant women at the workplace.

Women's participation in tertiary education is strongly encouraging, as female students have more than doubled in the last ten years and today constitute half the student population at the University of Malta. While women feature predominantly in healthcare, teaching and the arts, the number of women pursuing law and engineering is also increasing.

Women's representation in Malta's key decision-making processes is still limited. Although both of the major political parties uphold the advancement of women, the number of women in Cabinet and Parliament remains disproportionately low, with only one female Minister and four female Members of Parliament in 1999. Representation is similarly low in the Diplomatic Service, the Judiciary and the top echelons of the Public Service. Rather more encouraging is the proportion of women appointed to government boards, that has risen from 10 per cent in 1995 to 18 per cent by 1999. Furthermore, since the introduction of local government, the number of women elected to run local councils has increased steadily to reach 17.3 per cent in 1998.

Malta's national machinery
Generally speaking, the status of women in Malta has been greatly strengthened in the last fifteen years. Married women enjoy rights and responsibilities equal to their husband under Maltese law, and Malta has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Plans for the drafting of Gender Equality legislation are underway, as is the drafting of legislation on violence against women.

Beyond equal treatment before the law, the measures outlined in the above section have gone a long way in enabling women to avail themselves of the opportunities in public life traditionally enjoyed by men. These advances have been due in large part to the national machinery for gender equality, set up in 1989 by decision of Cabinet to implement government policy on equality between the sexes. The aims of this policy are threefold(4):

• to promote gender equality;

• to eliminate all forms of sex-based discrimination;

• to enable the advancement of women in the legal, civil, political, economic and social spheres.

This machinery comprises two main entities. The Commission for the Advancement of Women is mandated by the Prime Minister to advise Government on issues of gender equality and to raise public awareness thereon.

The Department, Women in Society forms part of the civil service and falls under the Ministry for Social Policy. This Department works within the civil service to ensure that government activities have a positive effect on women. It also collaborates with other professionals and civil society entities to promote equal opportunities for women.

Mainstreaming in Malta
The concept of mainstreaming is not new to Malta. In 1989, a circular was issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, wherein government firmly declared its policy on gender equality and the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and held that gender equality was to be an "integral and natural part of Maltese culture". Stressing the importance of incorporating women's issues in mainstream policy, the circular called upon the public service to accelerate the achievement of equality. In so doing, consultation was to be held with the national machinery in order to assess the gender impact of government activities, and equality of opportunity for recruitment and promotion was to be upheld.

In 1995, along with other countries worldwide, Malta adopted the Final Report and the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference in Beijing - thereby committing itself to mainstream gender equality in all areas of Maltese society. Since Beijing, the national machinery has disseminated information on Malta's strategy to implement the Platform for Action. This information was distributed both within government as well as to NGOs, the Church, social partners, professionals and the media through various workshops and briefing sessions.

Along with its awareness-raising activities, the national machinery compiles detailed reports on an annual basis, covering its activities in the previous year, relevant sex-disaggregated data and issues that require addressing in the forthcoming year. These reports are widely disseminated to politicians, professionals, high officials in the public service, and the media. The Department, Women in Society also holds a database of qualified women for nomination purposes, and runs a Documentation Centre to assist researchers and students with an interest in gender issues. In 1998, the Department liaised closely with the Central Office of Statistics to issue two publications based on sex-disaggregated statistics from the Population Census of 1995, which gave a clear picture of women's position in the social, economic and political spheres.

Equality-related training has increased in recent years. Both in 1991 and 1996, the Commonwealth Secretariat assisted the Department to run courses on gender equality and on impact assessment respectively. The Staff Development Organisation, within the Office of the Prime Minister, also runs various courses with a gender focus, such as that on Women in Management to be organised in March 2000. State school teachers also receive in-service training on gender equality and have received a manual on gender issues. The Department assists the University to run a Diploma course on Women and Development and advises various faculties on the inclusion of a gender focus in its various courses. Moreover, the Department runs other courses in support of its aims, promoting competencies such as interpersonal and political skills.

In 1999, Cabinet re-endorsed the concept of gender mainstreaming. The Commission for the Advancement of Women was asked to identify the methods and instruments whereby a gender focus could be brought into the mainstream of public administration. A report to this effect was prepared in September 1999. (5) The report emphasised the importance of carrying out a gender impact analysis at a very early stage in the formulation of policies, projects and proposals, and that the responsibility for such analysis belonged to each Ministry. The importance of a two-fold approach was upheld, namely, the coupling of gender mainstreaming structures with a co-ordinating national machinery.

The report identified two key issues that must be addressed for the effective implementation of gender mainstreaming. The first relates to the need for sex-disaggregated statistics, which in turn implies the need to identify current issues and related data requirements and indicators. The second relates to the need to raise the level of knowledge on gender equality and mainstreaming strategies among policy makers and top management structures. These two issues point to the need for more local expertise as regards both gender research and training.

The report made a number of key recommendations, namely, that the gender mainstreaming policy be publicised among all Ministries and Departments, and that a framework be established within the Public Service to facilitate the mainstreaming process. This framework is currently being developed. Proposals have been drawn up regarding training initiatives; gender impact assessment guidelines; and monitoring and evaluation tools. The Commission's report also sets out a workplan for the next three years. Each Department will now be required to submit annual departmental reports on gender equality initiatives to the national machinery on gender issues.

To conclude, the legal and social status of women in Malta has come forward by leaps and bounds in the past two decades. It could not have been done without the commitment of successive administrations to measuring progress in terms of social wellbeing as well as economic progress. Only this fundamental valuing of human growth can bring about effective equal opportunities for both men and women. It is augured that the unstinting efforts of Malta's national machinery since its establishment ten years ago are met with open hearts and broad vision within the public service, and that the proposed institutionalisation of mainstreaming further enable the valuable contribution of women to Maltese public life.

1 COM(96)67

2 EG-S-MS(98)2

3 Proportion of total employment to working age population, ie, between the ages of 16 and 60; However, since 1999, estimation of the female workforce has been brought in line with European standards, and is now calculated as the proportion of total female employment to all females aged 15 and over. The participation rate thus calculated is 27 per cent.

4 Department for the Equal Status of Women, Post-Beijing, Implementation of Platform for Action, Malta, 1996

5 Commission for the Advancement of Women, Gender Mainstreaming in Government, Mechanisms for Implementation, Malta, 1999

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