The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Woman or man? - Taking gender issues to the extreme

Thursday, 25 April 2019, 09:53 Last update: about 5 months ago

Over the past few weeks we noticed that the police media department, which is always so helpful when we require some assistance, stopped providing information on the gender of people involved in traffic accidents, or who were arrested in some police raid.

At first we thought it was some oversight, but when, one press statement after another, the gender of the people involved continued to be omitted, we chose to ask why this was happening. The police, and later the Equality Ministry, came up with replies that are convoluted and, frankly speaking, do not really explain why such a decision is taken.

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We were told, or at least we are interpreting it like this, that the gender of the persons mentioned in police statements is no longer being given to avoid being discriminatory. By being gender neutral, the police and ministry say, more respect is shown to the individual.

We beg to disagree. First of all, from a news point of view, this information is particularly vital. Our duty is to provide information on matters of public interest. If this information is lacking, it gives rise to speculation. We have already seen many instances, since this new policy came to be, that the situation is untenable and, added to this, the ever-expanding social media will uncover the identity of the “person” anyway.

One example is when the police issued a statement that a “person” was reported missing. The police used the term “person”, but then sent us the name – and it was a woman’s name – and a photo, which “exposed” the gender of the “person” even more. So the new policy was defeated by the police themselves.

Strictly speaking, and if the policy is to be stretched to the limit, the police should not give the name of the missing person, and neither provide a photo, since by doing so the gender is exposed anyway. But then it would be a futile exercise on the part of the police to seek public help in locating a missing person, as nobody would know who the missing person is.

Just this single example shows that the policy is flawed.

But there have been other instances that “exposed” the gender indirectly, particularly because the Maltese language is not gender neutral. There have also been occasions when the police statement itself first referred to “person” and then later on gave an indication of the gender – this is because it is very difficult to write a comprehensible gender-neutral statement (and we have experienced it ourselves when trying to write reports from information the police provided).

This policy – taken to the limit – would also contradict the Equality Ministry’s effort to combat domestic violence. Because, from now onwards, the media would be unable to speak of femicides or incidents in which women are beaten by their partner, simply because if the police were to follow the policy to the letter, it would be a “person” killing another “person”, not a “man” who killed a “woman” or beat her.

Most of all, this new policy smacks of extremism which can cause more harm than good to the idea of a society which embraces one and all, irrespective of religion, race or gender. We believe that common sense – which is not as common as we think in some quarters – should prevail and that it should be reversed.

 

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