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Parliament backs move toward parental leave for MPs

Johnny Bugeja

MPs yesterday united behind proposals to implement a formal parental leave regime for parliamentarians, in a move that aims to remove barriers to women’s active participation in politics.

The Minister for Equality Samantha Sacramento, who set out the proposals in a statement to the House, said the provisions would help address the “historic and striking” gender imbalance within the House and therefore improve representation for women.

In order to facilitate this she said it was her intention to put to the Select Committee on Parliamentary reform that it consider the implementation of a parental leave regime and, in particular, maternity leave for parliamentarians.

The proposals form part of the broader and ongoing process of parliamentary reform which has included, among other matters, parliamentary expansion.

The law currently allows for 14 weeks maternity leave and during that time Parliament may meet up to four times.

But there are no provisions for women parliamentarians who might want to have a child during the lifetime of a Parliament.

“There are no formal arrangements for men either, the latter however does not seem to have been a deterrent,” Ms Sacramento said.

“Those elected to represent voters should have all the structural support in place to enable them to do so.”

The aim of considering formal arrangements for maternity leave and indeed parental leave for parliamentarians is to remove the barriers to effective representation and to encourage women to run for office in the first place, Ms Sacramento said.

“Structural provision Structural provisions that remove the barriers for active Parliamentary participation by new mothers will set an important example to the wider society which it represents that being a parent should not be a barrier to workplace equality.”

“Without a written regime governing maternity leave for Parliamentarians, the inequalities in representation will continue to exist.”

On the gender imbalance within Parliament she highlighted how at the last general election just three of twenty candidates were women.

Additionally, although women make up roughly 50% of the electorate under 12% of the Parliament represents them.

“It is incumbent upon all of us to identify the barriers to women’s participation in active politics and to work to mitigate them,” she added.

Ms Sacramento’s statement was welcomed by the Opposition. Elliott Phillips, the Leader of the Opposition, said the Minister was “absolutely right” that the House should reflect the community that it serves.

“More women should participate in this House and to do that we should, of course, support the proposal put by the Minister that we should remove barriers to entry into this place,” he said.

Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon thanked Ms Sacramento for the “wise and equality-driven stance” and for placing the issue on the agenda for the next parliamentary term.

“It is crucial and vital to establish protocols in order to protect future parliamentarians and their seats in circumstances whereby they may not be able to be present in the House for maternity or paternity reasons.”

She highlighted how her slate of candidates for the forthcoming general election included five women and said the provisions were duly welcomed.