The Malta Independent 7 December 2019, Saturday

What women want

Claudette Buttigieg Thursday, 7 November 2019, 09:12 Last update: about 29 days ago

The young Swedish 16-year-old activist, Greta Thunberg, is influencing policy makers around the world. The “Greta Effect” is also influencing the way voters look at politicians. Analysts are claiming that the drop in support for the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the rise in support for Austria’s Green Party are both linked to the Greta Effect.

Thunberg’s success must be put in context. It comes as part of a series of activism by women.

The “Me Too” Movement was initiated by the American activist, Tarana Burke. She used the phrase in support of victims of sexual abuse and assault in a society which had become almost indifferent to such cases.

The movement, and consequently the hashtag, took a broader and international dimension in 2017, when A-list actresses from Hollywood exposed the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations.

Is there anything in Malta to parallel such movements? I think so. We have seen a rise in women who have taken activism to a new level.

One group was formed days after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Occupy Justice Malta is a group of women activists fighting for truth and justice for the iconic journalist.

For over a year, Occupy Justice seemed to be the only women engaged in true activism. Things have now changed. More women are emerging from the wings.

Three movements have particularly attracted my attention. They include men but, significantly, are led by women.

This July we had the rise of 19-year-old activist and artist Sasha Vella. Concerned by the wholesale environmental destruction to make way for roads, she set up a Facebook page called “For OUR Trees”. She currently has close to 14,000 members in the FB group.

A few hundreds responded to her call to face the blazing summer heat and protest against the destruction of trees in Attard. Then Sasha led another protest in Santa Lucija.

While placing crosses on the “cemetery” of trees, she and other protesters were insulted. She was called "ugly" – which speaks volumes not about Sasha's looks but about how some people can't handle women who speak up.

Whatever you think of Margaret Thatcher, she got this right when she said, “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

A second event attracted my attention in September. I had the privilege of chairing the Youth Parliamentary sessions held in the Malta Parliament. This annual event is organized by the National Youth Council (KNZ) and brings together young people from all walks of life, political backgrounds and educational formation.

Once again, I was struck by the number of young women who had so much to say about critical issues like gender equality, single-use plastic, AI, the education system and of course climate change, among other topics.

The women totally outnumbered the men, a reversal of the composition of our parliament today. The President of KNZ, Chiara Vassallo, is a true leader. A few days ago she persuaded all the KNZ members to take a stand on the law to declare Climate Change an emergency. On the day of the vote, she led a delegation to meet, first, Minister Jose Herrera, then the Leader of the Opposition. She helped bring consensus to the table in an unprecedented manner.

Then, last week Malta saw yet another remarkable movement take the spotlight. Close to forty NGOs took a position in favour of a document highlighting a very bold stand on Prostitution and Human Trafficking. Once again, a small group of women led the movement.

The Association for Gender Equality (A4E) was the brainchild behind the document, headed by the chairperson, Dr Anna Borg. However, the team effort of the different NGOs and their representatives, including President Emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, and some outstanding women who have been working silently in this field, including Dr Anna Vella, made this event historical and electrifying. I am sure that the legislative and political decisions which will be made soon will be influenced by their hard work and efforts.

To me these are clearly an example of a possible women’s movement renaissance. I hope that, like Occupy Justice Malta, these movements will persevere and bear fruit

  • don't miss