Education and Early Life
Barbara was born in Żabbar, Malta, and was educated at the grammar school in Valletta. During the Second World War, she worked as an air raid warden. She was a schoolteacher at Flores College from the early 1940s until 1947.
In 1947, she was elected in the first Labour government (the first self-government) the first woman to be elected to parliarment in Malta. Her political career was long and unbroken, since she was elected in all general elections between 1947 and 1981. As education minister (1955 - 1958), she instituted compulsory full-time education in Malta for children, leading to the hiring of hundreds of new teachers. In 1958 she served 43 days in prison "with hard labour", for picketing during a national strike against British policies in Malta, following the resignation of Prime Minister Mintoff.
In a subsequent Labour government, she was once again Minister for Education, between 1971 and 1974, after which she became Minister for Labour, Culture and Welfare and eventually Deputy Prime Minister. She was a member of parliament until 1981, by which time she had contested and been elected in ten consecutive elections.
On 16 February 1982, she was appointed the third President of the Republic and the only woman to hold this post. Barbara was elected President for a 5-year term in 1982. She served as President until 1987. The old series of monetary notes of Malta depicted the face of Agatha Barbara. She was against Malta's full membership of the European Union. She then retired at Żabbar, where she died at her residence in 2002.
On Women's Political Empowerment in Malta
In an interview with Barbara, she commented on the low numbers of women politicians in parliarment in Malta:
"I certainly believe women can be as good as men in politics, and sometimes better. But in a way I am not surprised at the low number, because it is very difficult for women with families, especially young children, to juggle a political life, or any other demanding job, with commitments at home. It was, after all, a choice I personally felt I had to make."