The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Not so fast, Ms Dalli

Mark Josef Rapa Wednesday, 9 October 2019, 11:17 Last update: about 6 days ago

The former Minister for EU affairs and Equality, Ms Helena Dalli, is the first-ever Equality Commissioner. Ms Dalli’s track record in improving the life of LGBTIQ individuals in Malta is admirable. Her quizzing before MEPs, not so much. 

The first two questions asked were about the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the Panama Papers; predictable questions to any person who has been following what is happening in Malta, but not for Ms Dalli. Her voice cracked whilst recycling the same facts other politicians from her government have also been instructed on saying, that international agencies helped the Maltese police force to solve the murder and three people were arrested.


Erroneously or not, Helena Dalli described Caruana Galizia’s murder as femicide. A World Health Organisation factsheet reads: Femicide is generally understood to involve intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls. The wicked, verbal harassment and emotional abuse Caruana Galizia faced in her work was partly due to her gender. We do not hear any politicians or individuals speak about Maltese male investigative journalists in the same manner they spoke – and still speak - about Daphne, but claiming that her assassination was femicide is reprehensible and unacceptable. Daphne Caruana Galizia’s brutal killing was a systemised, premeditated act intended to silence her. Her investigative journalism put several people in compromising positions, and they would simply no longer have it. 

It has been two years since that awful day, and the masterminds behind her murder still enjoy their liberty and freedom. Last Sunday, The Sunday Times of Malta revealed that a businessman is among three potential key suspects behind Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, and whilst there is no evidence linking politicians, the possibility cannot be ruled out. The fact that we are receiving updates on the investigations from journalists and not the police commissioner is unsettling. It continues to cement the idea that the police commissioner is incompetent and not fit for purpose, raising questions on the efficacy of the investigations.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has vowed for a long time that he would not leave any stone unturned. Alas, the public inquiry he has set up six days before the deadline set by the Council of Europe has already faced criticism. The family of the “one-woman WikiLeaks” and the Council of Europe itself is questioning the independence and impartiality of the members appointed on the board of inquiry.

At the time of writing, Muscat’s reaction to being summoned for cross-examination by Dr Arthur Azzopardi, Vince Muscat‘s lawyer has not been reported anywhere; Vince Muscat is one of the three suspects in the murder. One cannot help but wonder why the Prime Minister would be called to the stand and why has he not reacted yet. Helena Dalli, now EU Commissioner for Equality, who has pledged to protect all individuals’ human rights is nowhere to be seen. One would think that having bagged such a position would be out in furore criticising the Prime Minister for not reacting whilst applauding the work of the journalists at The Times. Having listened to her reply to the question about Minister Konrad Mizzi’s companies in Panama: “I would have done things differently”, the cowardice does not surprise me. We shall remain in the dark as to what she would have done differently.

At no point since the Panama Papers revelations has Ms Dalli said or done anything which showed her disapproval of Mizzi’s presence in the cabinet, or even in her party. It follows, therefore, that she endorses the corrupt practices her fellow Minister is accused of. Fret not though, we have her word that she will stand up for human rights and democracy. Incredulously, both the Prime Minister and Mizzi have this week been reported as saying that they would also have done things differently had they had the opportunity to turn back time. 

The rest of the ‘grilling’ was painful, cringe-worthy viewing and not solely because of the former Minister’s lack of communication skills and preparedness; the number of fillers she used was exhausting.

Dalli’s position on sexual and reproductive rights remains vague. Her discomfort was palpable and, in some instances, pitiful. Malta is the last country in the European Union to have a full ban on abortion; abortion is a matter of national competence, and Malta’s position was accepted when Malta joined the EU back in 2004. Ms Dalli has rarely voiced her opinion on the subject. The closest she ever got to mentioning abortion was in the context of the Morning After Pill (MAP), and then, only to confirm that the MAP is not abortifacient. MEPs from the Labour party Miriam Dalli, Alfred Sant and Josianne Cutajar, and David Casa and Roberta Metsola from the Nationalist Party, have all come out against abortion in the past. This, one might expect, could cause tension between her role as Commissioner and the country of origin.

For the rest of the questions, which centred mainly on the gender balance on boards directive, the equal treatment directive, and the Istanbul convention, the answers she gave were open-ended with an overt attempt at speaking in slow motion to gain time. Sadly, there were no direct questions as what she has done to narrow the gender pay gap in Malta (12.2% in 2017) and the gender pension gap (44.1% in 2017), or on the amendments to the Temporary Protection Order, which have attracted a Judicial Protest by the Women’s Rights Foundation last July. The amendments proposed put victims at further high risk, defeating the spirit of the Istanbul Convention.

Generally, Ms Dalli’s attempt to dodge questions throughout the session made her look weak and feeble. She provided no concrete answers about how her track record working in the promotion of equal opportunities – other than in the LGBTIQ field – will narrow gender gaps and ensure the protection of human rights of all. More notably, the carelessness in her attitude towards the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and detachment in condemning the corrupt practices of Minister Mizzi, speak volumes about her dispassion towards protecting journalists in the exercise of their work.  Corruption and violations of human rights are solidly linked together if not intertwined. Anyone with such a prestigious role should know better and also be at the forefront in the fight for transparency and protection of journalists.




Gender balance on boards

A minimum of 40% of non-executive members on company boards have to come from the under-represented gender. Whilst this directive does not apply to SMEs, member states are encouraged to provide SMEs with incentives to close the gap. The proposal was first published in November 2012. Even though it was approved by parliament, it is currently stuck at council-level. Some member states insist that the matter is of national competence and that the EU cannot evoke the principle of subsidiarity to push for such measures. 

Istanbul Convention

One-in-three women in the EU have suffered some form of physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15 (Fundamental Rights Agency – March 2014). Back in 2014, the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence against women came into force. It is the first legally binding international instrument of its nature. 

It focuses on preventing violence by  providing structured and tested protective measures (24/7 hotline), and prosecution by defining and criminalising the various forms of violence against women, as well as domestic violence. This would require signatories to amend national legislations to include new offences which it may not currently cater for, including stalking, female genital mutilation, and forced sterilisation.

Equal treatment directive

11 years on, this directive is yet to be adopted by the EU. It seeks to extend the protection of all individuals from any discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. To date, these four grounds are covered in employment and vocational training legislation but not in areas of social protection, healthcare, education, housing and access to goods and services.

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