By Janet Mifsud de Gray, Ph.D.

The Maltese female has long been the source of much derision - legend narrates that St. Paul, following his shipwreck on the Maltese Islands, removed the venom from the poisonous snakes in Malta and cast it away into women's tongues. On the other hand, the Maltese female has also been revered: the Goddess of Fertility statues discovered at the Tarxien Neolithic Temples are definitely female and many insist that the Maltese family would not be as strong if it were not for the mother.

Yet, is it a coincidence that the same word is used, in Maltese, for being 'female' and a 'wife' (il-mara)?

Which way are we proceeding as the second millennium approaches? Does the fact that a larger proportion of Maltese women are now gainfully employed suggest that we are now finally liberated..or are we still at the whim and beck and call of the males? The Family Law four years ago finally made it possible for Maltese women to keep their maiden surname if they so wish and also qualify for credit card status. Yet, nursery facilities in Malta for children under three are impossible to find and those to wish to simultaneously have a career and motherhood have to resort to relatives who are willing to look after the toddlers. Maternity leave is now en par with that found in most EU countries, however job sharing and flextime are unknown.

Can we expect anything better with only one female member of parliament, Giovanna Debono? A number of women associations- the Council of Women, Moviment Mara Maltija and the Sopromists, are increasingly making their voice heard. There is also an enlarging number of female personalities in the media/journalistic scene - Anna Bonanno, Dolores Cristina, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Pamela Hansen; female local council mayors, business women, lawyers, academics, bank managers and physicians.

Yet are these ladies making it in spite of, despite of, or because of the fact that they are female? The Government of Malta has now made it a policy to have at least one female representative on all its committees and there is now a Women's directorate within the Ministry of Social Policy. The extent of sexual harassment at workplace is not known, although the University of Malta have taken the first step of setting up a Gender subcommittee to deal with such issues and related complaints.

Just a small concluding thought - the number of females on the Maltese guest list for this home page is still small - come on - where are you all?

Please feel free to tell me what you think


E-mail to Dr Janet Mifsud de Gray.

Discussing the role of women in Malta, Janet Mifsud notes that there
is only one female member in the Maltese Parliament. Once upon a
time, in 1951, four out of forty legislators were women. Since then
their percentage of legislative seats has been in decline and
reached it lowest point (1.5%) in the 1992 election.

Why have so few women been elected, giving Malta now the lowest
percentage of women legislators of any European country? Is it 
because Maltese women are political apathetic? No; they are party
members in large numbers and almost all cast their votes on election
day. Is it because the political parties reject potential women
candidates? There is no evidence of that; instead there is anecdotal
evidence that parties have tried without success to persuade some
women to become candidates. Is the electoral system prejudicial to
women candidates? Not all because, compared to Britain and the
U.S., there is no shortage of places on the ballot for women to be
placed. Is it because voters tend be hostile toward women candidates?

This last possibility may sound plausible to some observers of
the Maltese scene; but the actual election data do not bear this out.
I have explored this question at length elsewhere (see the British
journal Democratisation, Summer 1995, pp.140-157) and will not repeat
the analysis here. Suffice it to say that in the twelve elections since
1947 women secured 3.89 per cent of all candidacies and 3.74 per cent
of all electoral victories. The 100 candidacies undertaken by women
resulted in 23 victories at the polls; this 23 per cent success 
rate for women candidates compares to an only slightly larger success
rate (25 per cent) for male candidates. These figures indicate that
once on the ballot, women as a group -- over time and on average -- 
have had just about the same chance of being elected as their male 

The problem, in short, has not been with the voters. It has really
been that too few women have been nominated as candidates to begin
with. Why? The answers to this are not as easily found as the hard
data of election results. But some speculation is possible.

The exclusion, and probable self-exclusion, of women from the ranks
of candidates is linked to such factors as the long prevailing idea
that a woman's proper task is that of mother and housekeeper; the
conservative Church teachings on the role of women; and the lack of
a large number of women pursuing careers outside the home. The
life of women outside the home has mainly focused on contacts with
other women and with members of their extended family.

Such life patterns, of home-bound activities and a social separation
of the sexes, obviously has provided few opportunities for the 
efforts required to pursue a political career. In light of these
conditions, the German sociologist Anita Bestler has observed, it
"perhaps is not an accident that many successful women in politics
in Malta were or are not married" (e.g., Agatha Barbara and Mabel
Strickland). Others who were successful in politics owed their entry 
to family connections (e.g., Carmen Sant and Giovanna Debono).

Will the picture change in the foreseeable future? Some recent
changes in Malta may well affect the future entry of women
into active political careers. For instance, the birth rate has 
fallen precipitously since 1947; a growing economy has led to the
entry of many more women into labour market; the university student
population has become more than 40% female; and recent reforms
of property, marriage and employment laws have dismantled
legal discrimination against women. And the local councils (to
which 55 women were elected) may serve as a testing ground for
national political careers by women.

John C. Lane      psclane@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu        October 1995

As a small issue, I hate the use of female for women. I guess labels can be a very important issue in its own right...) (the Maltese Temple Figures are always definitely women? I'm not as sure of such a statement. I've heard arguments to the contrary. One person i know of even claims that these are representations of the christian god, but we can safely dismiss that. Anyway, just a minor nit here.)

"yet, is it a coincidence that the same word is used, in maltese, for being 'female' and a 'wife' (il-mara)? "

This has been observed before and well worth repeating. Is the value of Womanhood seen only within the context of marriage? Well, perhaps that loses a bit of its impact when we realize that the Maltese word for man is "ragel" identical to that of husband. So perhaps in the mind of the traditional person man +/or woman = husband +/or wife, indicating a very family oriented culture.

"Yet are these ladies making it in spite of, despite of, or because of the fact that they are female? The Government of Malta has now made it a policy to have a least one female representative on all its committees and there is now a womenUs directorate

Ouch, you have reproduced an argument against affirmative action that is being debated here in the US (where aff. ac. is used on members of minority groups, women, and other disadvantaged groups). Does the conscious choice by the Gov't to include women necessarily mean that this is bad? If it opens opportunities for women, who may then capture enough attention to not need Gov't help in the future, is this terrible? If the gov't did not include women in the local committees, would women even have a voice?

OK, perhaps quotas are not the way to go (well, some districts really may have very uninspired women and spectacularly interesting men...) But some other format may work nonetheless. Is the gov't trying to do anything about women in the public sector? Does it contract out to women who are self-employed? Things of that nature. Do not forget that the gov't is one of the largest industry in most nations.

Sexual harassment! I've been surprised by reading Angelo Cachia's news that there has been one rape (of a police officer no less) and one attempted rape recently. Is this a new trend or does it reflect an increasingly hostile/ predatory male attitude? It would be hard to come up with figures for the past (before the present ~10 years) because such things were not widely reported in the past, probably because of stigma. Why has no-one looked at on work harassment? I read an interesting story some time ago about women in Paris being asked whether being asked by their boss to take their shirts off constituted sexual harassment. The majority said no! What is the public's perception of what is sexual harassment and what is a very poor advance. The answer here will almost certainly differ between men and women (the harassing sex tends to be more lenient with itself).

Anyway, I found your articles very interesting starts. At the risk of sounding like an out of touch twit, i'm very happy that such discussions can now take place openly in Malta, rather than under the heavy cloak of catholic taboo.

Victor Debattista New Jersey debattis@physics.rutgers.edu

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