A government consultant decided to provide unsolicited advice on what a woman should be in order to deserve a seat in Parliament.
Speaking on the currently-debated gender-balancing bill, architect and lawyer Robert Musumeci declared that women aspiring to be politicians must be “charming” and “unpretentious” and advised our Prime Minster to scout candidates based on this criteria.
He even said he knew which women fit the mould.
It’s alarming that a man, let alone a government consultant, feels entitled enough to tell women what they need to be to thrive in Parliament, even more so that he thought it was acceptable to share his shallow ideas on social media.
If Robert Abela wants credibility for this historic measure to fix the shamefully low number of women in Parliament, then he needs to take a hard look at his own government first.
Because how can the state herald itself as pro-women when one of its outspoken employees thinks women just need to be likeable to make it in politics?
Women offer much more than just pretty faces to hold up political banners and vote for bills. Women are diverse, intelligent, opinionated, strong, loud, quiet and come from all walks of life.
Musumeci’s status isn’t just casual sexism, it is a worrying symptom of Maltese culture.
It echoes the idea of parliamentarians being little more than smiling lackeys that do what they’re told. Be “charismatic and unpretentious” and charm your voters, but then stay in line, keep your head down and don’t you dare speak up against your party.
This could be why gender quotas are being pushed in Parliament, which will only stand to benefit the Labour and Nationalist party and not independent or third-party candidates.
It seems then that the two established parties are only looking to add women to represent their political agendas without questioning them, rather than because they truly believe women can contribute valuable opinions and have a place in power, no matter what party they join.
When given the chance to, women thrive in positions of power. Charmaine Gauci, Malta’s Superintendent of Public Health, is the face of the fight against COVID-19. MEP Roberta Metsola and former MEP and minister Miriam Dalli have both left their marks on European politics. Malta’s first female President Agatha Barbara never lost an election and introduced pioneering policies in education and social security.
If Malta’s political parties want more female candidates, they should start by taking it upon themselves to make sure their red and blue ballots are gender-diverse. They would push to make Parliament full-time, fight rampantly sexist ideas like Musumeci’s and give women resources to become fully-fledged candidates.
Perhaps it is men like Musumeci that repel women from even contesting in the first place.
Women have always faced hurdles to political visibility – expected to juggle domestic labour, child-rearing and a high-stake professional job. Measures like this bill will help young women see themselves in fresh faces that ascend to Parliament, but it is not enough to fight the patriarchal system that brought us here in the first place.
Let this be a reminder to all women reading this. You don’t need to be “charming” to make your male, political counterparts feel comfortable. Take up space, use your voice and be the change you want to see. Understand that you don’t need to fit anyone’s mould of compromise to deserve to be in Parliament.