Making a difference: Interview with Lydia Abela

Some people have an inherent skill to stand out of the crowd wherever they are and whatever they do. Some people have that charisma to leave an impact on society without pushing themselves too much. The moment you come across Lydia Abela, you quickly realize that she perfectly fits within this category of people. She is elegant, sophisticated, good looking and with a genuine smile which quickly captivates you and puts you at ease during any conversation you will have with her. However behind that calm face, lies a woman with a strong drive and will to succeed. Her determination is not driven by a personal ambition but rather by what she loves most – connecting with other people and a personal set goal to leave in one way or another, a positive impact on society. Above all, a will to unconditionally support her husband in the daunting task he embarked on way back in January. Lydia, shared with Atelier how her life changed over the past months, her special bond with Giorgia Mae, her interest in politics and how she is gradually fitting into her new role.

Politics touches lives and that is what I look forward to in my role as the wife of the Prime Minister – to make my utmost in improving the situation of society at large.

How has your life changed over the past weeks?

Somehow life changes when your husband becomes Prime Minister but the biggest changes for me have been because of the COVID-19 crisis. Just like everyone else, just like every other mother, like every other working mother, I had to make serious adjustments. I have been working from home and meeting my obligations online. With our eight year old daughter, Giorgia Mae, not going to school, I had to be there for her to keep up with her studies and her different social life indoors. I missed not being able to meet extended family and friends, especially my parents and Robert’s parents. The pressure had been great on Robert, working long days and taking tough decisions, but Giorgia and myself are always there to support him and help him unwind.

What active role should we expect you take?

I have been involved in the political life for many years and I do not see that changing. Politics is part of me, it is my passion. At a young age my parents exposed my sisters, my brother and myself to different social realities that existed in our home town. I remember myself during my teenage years doing voluntary work teaching young girls and boys and giving a helping hand to those in need. Dealing with such realties at that age made me appreciate the simple little things I have, made me more compassionate and instilled in me the will and the energy to make a difference in people’s lives.

I started my studies at the University of Malta pursuing a Law Degree in the year 1996 where I met Robert who happened to come from a political family. We married in the year 2008 and in 2010 I was appointed as Secretary of Partit Laburista.

This year it was a natural decision for me to step down from my role as Secretary of Partit Laburista when Robert became Prime Minister. I took this step not because a woman is an extension of her husband’s office, but because I am resolute to support Robert and do my utmost to help the Maltese community.

What does politics mean to you?

Politics helps you bring change. Unfortunately many-a-times, we are only exposed to the dark side of politics – the confrontational side of it. Politics is not that. Politics is all about improving people’s lives. It’s about helping people reach their full potential and about how we can look after the most vulnerable in our society. Politics touches lives and that is what I look forward to in my role as the wife of the Prime Minister – to make my utmost in improving the situation of society at large.

What is the most important political issue we need to address now?

Right now, it has to be Malta’s response to the COVID-19 effects and how we can move forward from this.

Malta has done extremely well in dealing with the health emergency. The number of cases would probably have been much higher if the Government had not taken action when and how it did. The next task is to rebuild the economy, save jobs, and return to normality. Nobody knows the exact blueprint for this, but we Maltese are resilient people and I’m sure we will succeed.

What are the qualities for a good Prime Minister?

A good Prime Minister has to listen and understand but must have goals and be determined to achieve them. A good Prime Minister has to stay close to his people and be one of them; he must be humble and compassionate. Robert has been doing this since day one. I think the fact that he is so rooted to his political foundations, and is in touch with people from all walks of life, will stand him in good stead.

The famous Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, once noted; “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” To what extent do you agree?
Absolutely. I have made this one of my main pillars to work on during my tenure as wife of the Prime Minister. I have already worked on this during my time within the structures of Partit Laburista and I am keen to keep working to better this situation. There is no doubt about the need for more women in both Parliament and decision making roles.

What are your views on female participation in local politics?

Female participation in local politics is far below than satisfactory. It is a pity that we have such a
low number when we come to female Members of Parliament in Malta – a situation that had been stale since women were given the right to vote and to contest the general elections. This was the reason behind Partit Laburista LEAD initiative – an initiative which was necessary to empower female prospects to political life and encourage more women to run for the local council elections, general elections and elections of the European Parliament.

I am now looking forward to the moment when the Labour Government amends the law to ensure that future Parliaments have top-up seats to ease gender imbalance.

How can we ensure a stronger female participation?

Education, self-confidence and empowerment are
the keys. Young girls need more women role models. Ensuring a stronger female participation depends on a number of factors. We need to remove the stigma that politics is an ‘old boys club’. In addition, the political arena must cater for a more family friendly environment to make sure that having a political life does not hinder being able to bring up a family and raise children. It has been proven, that when contesting, women have a high successful rate of making it to parliament and thus, we need to work on encouraging more women to make that step.

What does your private life look like?

My family gives me energy. Robert and I try to make the most of family life. Obviously, we are all very busy but the three of us make it a point that we find time to enjoy little things together, catch up on each other’s day and keep our daily coffee appointment in Valletta.

In what way does a First Lady strike the right balance between a private and a public life?
I have my own career and we enjoy our private time as a family, but I am determined to support Robert as much as I can. His vision is my vision and we share the same social beliefs and values. I want to be there for Robert as his wife, as a mother of his daughter and as his best friend.

What in Malta should we strive for in post COVID-19 era?
All the indicators are that Malta will come out of the economic crisis in better shape than many other countries and I am sure that we will build on our optimism and confidence. As restrictions eased, Maltese people are taking the opportunity to live life to the full again. We Maltese have a zest for getting out there and doing things – at work, with family, in sports, the arts. I look forward to seeing that enthusiasm and joy again.

Why should we be positive about the future?

Well, just look at what we have overcome in the past. If we just be ourselves – the resilient Maltese people, the hard workers who love their country with a passion – we are heading to a bright future. We all know the history of this tiny island. There are still people alive who remember the dark days of bombing in the Second World War. Today we are a proud, independent nation with a talented population.

We should be positive and proud about who we are and about what we can achieve.

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