Of courage and comments that stick

A Government Member of Parliament, lawyer, and mediator, Naomi Cachia was recently featured in an exhibition at the Labour Party headquarters, marking her historic appointment as the first female party whip. In a conversation with The Journal, she reflects on the significance of this achievement.

“The fact that we’re an active party, commemorating such milestones and looking forward to more, shows that we’ve maintained an open-minded approach along the years. We continue to celebrate our diversity, not just as a symbolic gesture, but as a testament to the party’s ongoing evolution,” says Naomi Cachia, a young government Member of Parliament who has recently broken barriers by becoming the country’s first female party whip.

With her quiet demeanour, she embodies both composure and confidence. Her presence is marked by a serene assertiveness, reflecting a blend of calmness and self-assuredness. “When we advocated for increasing the number of women in Parliament, it reflected our genuine belief in gender equality. My position as a whip is a direct consequence of this shift towards greater female representation. This transformation didn’t happen overnight; it was the culmination of deliberate decisions over recent years to increase female participation. We’re now witnessing the natural outcomes of these efforts. The impact is evident not only in Parliament but also within its committees: it’s a trickle-down effect,” says Dr Cachia. 

She highlights a recent achievement which she describes as another modest milestone: for the first time, there was gender balance in a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee. This committee had three female members from the government and one woman from the Opposition, reflecting the strides being made towards equality.

It’s not all hunky-dory though. “Reflecting on the introduction of quotas two years ago, I vividly recall the wave of criticism we faced—the type of criticism that tends to linger. To this day, whenever a woman’s words are reported in the media or a woman is assigned a parliamentary role, one of the initial reactions often mocks her and questions her position if it was achieved through the quota system. This is something I’m acutely aware of and feel strongly about,” admits the Government whip.

Her experience has led her to believe that the legislative changes that the Government implements in Parliament serve as a crucial catalyst for social transformation, yet they don’t guarantee an immediate shift in societal attitudes. She believes that it’s essential to recognise this dynamic, particularly when enacting civil rights reforms. In her firm opinion,s initiating these changes at the state level is vital, because it encourages discussions within communities, in homes, and public spaces, which can gradually alter mindsets.

“However, as politicians, we must tread carefully, acknowledging that our actions, while intended to progress society, don’t always instantly alter public mentality. Our responsibility extends beyond legislative reform; we must also consider the societal impact and the potential for misinformation. Misleading narratives, propelled by those with specific agendas, can exploit societal uncertainties, causing significant harm. This has been a recurring challenge in recent years, and it highlights the importance of mindful and informed policymaking,” she warns.

The discussion around increasing women’s representation in Parliament exemplifies this. Despite years of dialogue on potential solutions and the need for political parties to take on more responsibility, the implementation of quotas was met with misunderstanding and criticism from a significant portion of society. Speaking from experience as one of the first women to be elected by means of this quota mechanism, Dr Cachia says that this criticism is intended to undermine their legitimacy and contributions in Parliament, and it creates a lasting impact on them.

“These experiences underline the importance of carefully managing the narrative and setting positive examples for future generations who are at the forefront of advocating for change. Ultimately, our primary objective remains to legislate and enact meaningful change. When confronted with challenges or resistance, we must remain committed to addressing them, encouraging a culture of acceptance, and working diligently towards societal improvement,” says the MP.

Reflecting on her current position in Parliament, she says that she is keen to make a significant contribution to her parliamentary group, a responsibility she takes very seriously.

“The role of a whip is often associated with enforcing discipline, which is quite ironic given my reserved nature. While my personality might not seem directly suited to the whip’s role on the surface, at its core, the position demands a deep respect for the institution we serve and the parliamentary group we are part of. Discipline, in this context, arises naturally from this respect, and it’s not about reprimanding people, as some might think. Instead, it’s about fostering excellent coordination,” explains Dr Cachia.

She adds that many people’s perception of parliamentary work is limited to the debates seen on TV, in those iconic green chairs, but their efforts extend far beyond this. The whip’s role is pivotal in ensuring smooth coordination, not just within her team but also with Parliament’s staff and the opposition. This role underscores that much of the work proceeds without issue, contrary to the occasional problems that capture public attention and become news stories.

“I am deeply grateful for this experience. From day one, parliamentary work has been very close to my heart. This role challenges you to continually grow and adapt. Although it’s only been a month, which felt much longer, I am truly thankful. Working with our parliamentary group has been a pleasure, and I look forward to the demanding months ahead, ready to face the diverse challenges that come our way,” concludes the young politician whose career has only just kicked off.

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