A study conducted by the European Commission, reveals that 98% of Maltese people believe that equality between men and women is a fundamental right1. Yet, when obtaining viewpoints on gender equality from youths in secondary, post-secondary and tertiary schools, the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) has attained surprising results.
As part of the EU-funded project ‘Equality beyond Gender Roles’ currently being implemented by NCPE, a Roving Van Exhibition has been rotating post-secondary and tertiary schools in Malta and Gozo with the aim of obtaining viewpoints from male students on the role of men with regard to breaking stereotypes and sharing responsibilities within a family setting. Another activity with the same objectives was aimed at younger students (14-16 year olds); interactive drama sessions performed in secondary schools.
Throughout these two activities, participants voiced the need for more awareness and education on gender equality, as although everyone seemingly agrees that stereotypes are bad, a significant number are still influenced by cultural and societal pressures. Let us take a look at a snapshot of the results obtained:
- Housework Duties and Care of Dependents
Where the majority of post-secondary and tertiary students believe that housework should be shared equally amongst all members of the household so that both men and women will have time to do other things, others believe that such duties are the responsibilities of women. “Men should be more focused on obtaining the financial means for the family to survive”, “men earn more than women”, and “men do not have to stop working to take care of the children”, students argued. This is in fact in line with statistical data which shows that the time spent by women workers in Malta doing cooking and housework, every day for one hour or more accounts to 65.2% in contrast with the share of 16.9% of men’s time.2 Some students believe that the care of dependents should also be the sole responsibility of women as “women know how to take better care of the children”, “mothers have a biological bond with their children” and because “mothers have to breastfeed their infants”. This is also reflected in the fact that in Malta, the time spent by women workers caring for and educating their children or grandchildren every day for one hour or more totals 49.5% of their time as opposed to 34.6% of men’s time in 2012.3
Secondary school students however seem to be of a different opinion. As for the majority, housework duties and the care of dependents is not just the sole responsibility of the woman, but the norm with no alternative. “Women do not take cars to the mechanic”, “men do not do facials”, “who will prepare the bed if not the woman”, are some of the comments shared by 14-16yrs old students. And what is more interesting from this group is that such views are shared by both male and female students. Such statements reinforce the predominance of the stereotypical notions which centre on the segregated roles of men and women rather than the promotion of equality of the genders.
It is also interesting to note that, when made aware of the available family friendly measures (FFMs) such as flexi-time and telework, as well as a number of facilities that could ease the pressure from persons with caring responsibilities and allow both men and women to be part of the labour market, such as childcare centres, some students changed their opinions.
- The use of Family-Friendly Measures (FFMs)
Many students, especially those in secondary schools, were not aware of FFMs offered by the public sector and some private companies. Upon learning of some of the measures on offer, they argued that such measures “ensure that both parents are involved in their children’s development” and “by being offered to both men and women, all can reconcile a work-life balance”.
The majority of students stated that they will be interested in benefitting from FFMs at their future workplaces. Some even expressed interest in learning how such measures are implemented and encouraged the state and companies to setup policies and raise more awareness at a national level. “The implementation of policies would encourage all employees to make use of FFMs, thus encouraging both men and women to share domestic and care responsibilities equally”, stated Daniel Borg at UoM.
Students’ viewpoints indicate that one of the key tools to challenge the stereotypical notions embedded in culture and societal pressures is education. By educating the general public, especially the younger generation, such notions can become obsolete and society will thus become more gender equal.
1 Special Eurobarometer 326 (2010), Gender Equality in the EU in 2009 http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/archives/ebs/ebs_326_sum_en.pdf
2 European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), Gender Equality Index 2015, Measuring gender equality in the European Union 2005 – 2012, Country Profiles. 2015