Low female employment and segregation of skills are partly to blame for Malta’s poor performance in electing women to power, according to the head of an EU gender equality agency.

“There are much fewer women than men within employment, most of whom opt for the same type of work, and therefore have the same type of skills.

“This makes it difficult to find the critical mass with diverse technical expertise that voters opt for when choosing potential MPs,” Virginija Langbakk, director of the European Institute for Gender Equality said.

“Meanwhile, it is even more difficult for women outside of the labour market to be elected, as voters do not elect people for their parental skills,” she added.

Ms Langbakk was speaking to the Times of Malta in between meetings with the authorities, NGOs and other stakeholders, following the release of EIGE’s 2015 Gender Equality Index.

The index consists of six sectors: work, money, knowledge, time, power and health. It measures gaps between women and men, with EU member states scoring points for each sector – from one for total inequality to 100 for full equality.

The higher the score, the closer the country is to achieving gender equality, and a high overall score reflects a small or absent gender gap.

The index shows that despite having closed the gap a bit between 2005 and 2012, Malta is not even halfway towards the equality landmark.

It also falls short of the EU average, placing 16th. With an increase of 3.4 points, Malta reached a score of 46.8 out of 100 in 2012, below the EU28 average score of 52.9.

Malta’s lowest score in the index is that for power – it is only a quarter of the way towards full gender equality.

In 2012, the number of women in decision-making positions was similar to that in 2005 and the report notes that there was no long-term visible progress.

Ms Langbakk believes the different sectors are interlinked – the less women in labour, the less women with qualifications, therefore the less women in power.

The less women are paid, the more limited their financial resources for an electoral campaign, and the more house chores they have to do, the less time they have for such campaigns.

The greatest challenge for Malta remains the unequal division of time spent in charge of care and domes­tic tasks. Two-thirds of women, compared to only 17% of men, do housework for at least one hour every day.

When comparing 2005 with 2012, inequalities also increased in women’s and men’s access to leisure.

In fact, Malta’s overall score when it comes to the domain of time dropped by 10.6 points to 36.7 points.

Apart from introducing to children from kindergarten age that a woman can cut metal and a man can cook, and providing more incentives for parental leave to be shared equally, Malta could also introduce initiatives for elderly care.

“Just how Malta adopted a childcare scheme, which saw more women join the labour force, there could be a scheme to encourage relatives of elderly people to employ carers while they go to work.

“Creating such a subsidised system would not only free up more women for work but even create more jobs for others as the need for carers rises,” she said.

Meanwhile, the index also featured older workers as they have lower access to employment: only 16% of women aged between 55 and 64 are in employment, compared to 52% of men.

Women, she insisted, needed to realise that they lived longer than men, and once the male breadwinner retired or passed away, the pension was so low they could end up on the brink of poverty. Remaining within employment would help them save up for when they retire.