Andorra Congress on Women of the Small States of Europe

Professor Edward Scicluna, chairing the forum, urged political parties to follow the pattern that the Malta Council for Economic & Social Development (MCESD) together with Civil Society representatives has adopted – that debates of national importance be concrete and productive.

NCW President Grace Attard and General Secretary Doris Bingley were invited to participate in the first Congress on the Situation of Women in the Small States of Europe. This was organised by the Andorra Association of Women with the collaboration of UNESCO and the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Andorra.

Representatives of Women’s organisations from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Cyprus, San Marino, Monaco, Luxembourg, Andorra and Malta gave a historical overview, highlighting key events in the development of gender equality and present day challenges.

All these small countries have similar issues to deal with, such as the need for both parents to share family and home responsibilities, domestic violence, the low participation of women in political life, and the rights of elderly women and women entrepreneurs. The representatives of Luxembourg (an EU member state), Malta and Cyprus (applicant countries) spoke about the European Union’s acquis communautaire and the priority it gives to gender equality. This commitment has served member states and candidate countries to work towards a common goal in a structured process to improve the situation of women, socially and economically.

NCW (Malta) presented the results of a survey, recently commissioned by the Council on gender equality in a number of private companies, and the current measures that are being taken by ETC to increase the participation of women in the labour market. The study aroused much interest in the participants of the Congress and was also given prominence by the media of Andorra. The congress was brought to an end with a public lecture on “Women in the World – Voice and Vision” by H E Claudia Fritsche, Ambassador of the Principality of Liechtenstein to the USA. The Iraqi war was in our thoughts throughout the Congress and in her presentation, the Ambassador highlighted the role of women in conflict management, reminding the audience of the suffering of women and children in countries of armed conflict. She spoke about the urgent need for more women to be in positions where they can influence decisions to prevent war and seek dialogue to resolve situations of conflict.

NCW Forum on Civil Society and the EU

The importance of the participation of Civil Society in decisions of national importance was the theme of a forum recently organised by the Council. In her introduction, NCW President Grace Attard said that the media had started to give space to civil society and NGOs in particular, to express their views on the positive economic and social effects that EU membership will have, not only on their members but on Maltese society as a whole. Ms Attard said she hoped that the participation of civil society in decision-making in situations of national importance will continue to grow.

Professor Edward Scicluna, chairing the forum, urged political parties to follow the pattern that the Malta Council for Economic & Social Development (MCESD) together with Civil Society representatives has adopted – that debates of national importance be concrete and productive. Professor Godfrey Baldacchino gave a clear and challenging description of the way partisan politics are suffocating and manipulating Maltese society and hindering them from making informed and independent decisions. Ms Vania Ivanova spoke about the need for global security. She referred to women who can act to resolve conflict through dialogue – women too have the obligation to shape Europe.

The key speaker was Mr Henri Malosse, European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Board member responsible for co-ordinating with civil society in candidate countries. He spoke about the role of EESC within the European Union. The Committee represents civil society and with its observer status within the EU institutions, can ensure that non-governmental organisations can express their views, opinions and concerns on matters such as consumer rights, the environment, youth and gender. Issues concerning farmers, fishermen, trade unions, cultural and religious groups are also discussed. At the local level, this process has already started within MEUSAC, but we must go further. The MCESD can be the forum to organise civil society and co-ordinate with the EESC where Malta can make its recommendations on developments in the EU enlargement process on matters such as democracy building, economic governance, and social Europe among others. If this is the Europe we want, we must not miss this challenge and set up the relevant Joint Consultative Committee as all the other applicant countries are already doing.

NCW is breaking new ground, working with other social partners on national issues which we strongly believe are the concern of women too; we need more women to come forward, to be more involved, to be in positions where decisions are taken and to speak loudly on what we believe in!

EU Referendum

The National Council of Women looks upon the vote in favour of Malta’s European Union membership as a sign of maturity and responsibility of the Maltese people. The growing awareness of the important step that Malta will soon be taking must not be underestimated. The sense of responsibility and reflection that have underlined the long period of preparation and negotiations have served to develop in many individuals and organisations the realization that they too can make their voice heard on national issues. NCW is sure that this is the beginning of a process that will go on – no matter what the future events will be: civil society will go on making its voice heard, participating in a democracy that will safeguard the right of the individuals to contribute to the decision-making process of our country.

Elections 2003

In less than two weeks, the Maltese people will be asked to elect their representatives in Parliament. NCW calls upon all political parties to commit themselves to the development of the status of women, in particular:

• That a ministry or parliamentary secretariat be appointed to deal specifically with gender equality, now that Gender Equality legislation is in place;
• That political parties work towards increasing the participation of women in decision-making for a more balanced and just representation of our society;
• That the government’s policy of social inclusion will ensure that the needs of single parent families are adequately acknowledged;
• That the social security system be reformed to make it financially viable for women whose spouses are on social benefits to go into paid work.

ETC Knowledge Centre at NCW Premises

A new Knowledge Centre of the Employment and Training Corporation was officially inaugurated on March 5 by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Policy Laurence Gonzi at NCW headquarters in Blata l-Bajda. The new centre will be offering IT training to all interested men and women. Sessions will be held during the morning, afternoon and evening to meet the needs of more individuals. Courses will include basic IT, general office packages and computer based training leading to the European Driving Licence.

Speaking during the inauguration of the Knowledge Centre, Dr Gonzi said that this centre should be an empowerment centre since the acquisition of ICT skills empower adaptability and employability for workers while serving as a tool to combat social exclusion. The NCW centre has undergone structural changes including a ramp at the entrance for easy access to persons with special needs. Other measures to cater for the needs of such persons have been the installing of user-friendly furniture and IT equipment and easy access to kitchen and toilet facilities. This initiative of ETC in collaboration with NCW is not the first: in fact the Empowerment Course for Women, a programme run regularly at the Centre, is a very popular project of ongoing education and training.

Seminars on ERA

The Foundation for Human Resources Development, the Malta Employers’ Association and the Workers’ Participation Development Centre of the University of Malta organized three afternoon seminars (19th February, 26th February, 5th March) which served as a practical introduction to Malta’s new Employment Relations law.

In the first seminar, chaired by NCW vice-president Mrs. Helga Ellul, Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino discussed “Insights on the development of Malta’s Legal Labour Framework” and Dr. Andrew Borg Cardona spoke about “The Features of the Employment Contract”. The second seminar was chaired by Mr. Joe Farrugia, Director General of the Malta Employers’ Association; Ms Renee Laiviera gave a presentation on “Equal Opportunities, Non-Discrimination and Equal Pay for work of Equal Value”; Dr. Roselyn Borg’s presentation discussed “Employee Rights to Information & Consultation”. The two topics of the third seminar, chaired by Prof. L Zammit were: Organisation and Collective Rights of Workers & Employers (including those providing essential services), and Voluntary & Non-Voluntary Dispute Resolution carried out by the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations. The new labour law promotes the importance of keeping employees informed at all times. Workers should know their rights and obligations and seminars such as this are useful fora for discussion for employees and organisations who work in their interest.

Labour Force Survey

The latest Labour Force Survey shows that in September 2002 the majority of women (69.9%) were inactive. Although female participation rate increased from 32.3% in September 2001 to 34% in September 2002, this contrasts sharply with the male employment rate of 76.2% in September 2002. In September 2002, 58.7% of employed females were within the 15 to 34 age group while most males were within the 35 to 54 age group. 58.5% of women were employed as technicians and associate professionals, clerks, service workers and shop and sales workers. These patterns are practically identical to those prevailing in September 2001.

The wage differential is still about 20% with women’s salaries at 80% of men’s salaries. The main reason for this differential may be different working hours, with males working longer hours and the fact that the employed female population tends to be younger than its male counterpart; less experienced staff are paid lower salaries. There is also a tendency for more females (18.3%) than males (4.7%) to work part-time.

One can conclude that the fact that most females are still mainly responsible for family needs leads to women opting for shorter working hours thus receiving lower salaries. The increased female participation, especially in the youngest labour force age group, indicates the need to look for more flexible work arrangements both for males and females, to continue to sustain the female contribution to the local measured economy. Female dropouts from the labour force due to child rearing, and the loss of trained human resources, could also be decreased. The lower female participation in the older labour force age groups also indicates the need for incentives to encourage re-entry of women in the labour market of females after child rearing.

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