As part of the MEUSAC Activity Week, MEUSAC organised a Students’ Debate focusing on the European Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy. 18 students from Giovanni Curmi Higher Secondary discussed various themes related to gender equality. The students were divided into four groups, with each group representing one of the four largest political groups in the European Parliament; the EPP, S&D, ALDE, and the Greens. Students were also joined by the Head of MEUSAC, Mandy Falzon, Minister for Social Dialogue, Carmelo Abela, as well as MEPs Josianne Cutajar, Roberta Metsola, and Alex Agius Saliba.
In her introductory remarks, Ms Falzon, stated that students should have an active role in debates on topics which are not only a European priority, but which also affect our everyday lives.
In his opening address, Minister Abela noted that there are various challenges which need to be addressed to achieve true gender equality, from gender-based violence to female political representation in politics. He highlighted the importance of education in fighting gender stereotyping. He also lamented the fact that Malta has a low level of female representation in the national parliament.
The debate, moderated by Ms Raylene Abdilla from the Institute of European Studies, focused on four themes: gender stereotyping, pay transparency, gender-based violence, and the debate on gender quotas in politics.
On gender stereotyping, students focused on the appointment of women on company boards. They noted that the prevalence of female stereotypes as homemakers is negatively impacting women’s opportunities to be appointed to high-level positions. They emphasised the need for more educational initiatives to combat stereotypes, as this is also influencing the lack of female representation in politics. Education must ultimately focus on breaking social norms on gender.
Students discussed the prevalence of gender pay gaps and noted that such gaps also exist on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation. Students provided mixed opinions on public salary structures to reduce the pay gap. They noted the importance of data privacy and instead suggested that such salary structures can be verified through workers’ unions and constituted bodies. Conversely, students also noted that public salary structures can help ensure that companies are properly paying employees.
All students condemned all forms of gender-based violence and noted that this is not only about physical abuse, but also about mental and emotional abuse.
On gender quotas, students were also split about their effectiveness. On the one hand, gender quotas can help to kickstart stronger female representation in politics. On the other, some students felt it would be better to continue focusing on education rather than on quotas to achieve a more permanent solution.
Reacting to the points raised by students, Dr Josianne Cutajar noted that even with the current initiatives being taken, it is estimated that it will take 60 years for Europe to achieve full gender equality. She also highlighted the importance of addressing root causes to gender issues through concrete legislation.
Dr Roberta Metsola addressed the increase of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and noted that such violence is not exclusive to any single gender. She also highlighted the need to start pushing girls to take up more STEM subjects and to start entering those sectors which traditionally employ more men.
Dr Alex Agius Saliba said that he is in favour of a pay transparency register to increase awareness on pay discrimination. He also noted that there is a need to create the right environment for all women to be able to go into politics and to find increased success.