The Malta Independent 25 June 2024, Tuesday
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A society that is blind to gender

Sunday, 14 January 2024, 08:41 Last update: about 6 months ago

Alexander Mangion

We can all agree that we have come a long way in terms of civil rights in Malta, but naturally there is always more work to be done.

I was pleased to follow closely the debate in Parliament this week, regarding the criminalisation of virginity testing. Thankfully both sides of the House are in complete agreement on the subject, which perhaps testifies to a maturity that is much needed in our country, especially on sensitive topics such as this one.

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While there is no evidence of virginity testing ever taking place locally, I am satisfied that we are putting our best foot forward on the matter and leading the way. The work of Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg as well as her Shadow counterpart Graziella Attard Previ is commendable and laudable.

As has already been competently said in Parliament, the practice of virginity testing is completely unacceptable in a modern society. It was declared an act of discrimination against women in the Istanbul Convention. In fact, the practice is a complete assault on a woman’s dignity, which has been noted to, in some cases, result in issues of mental health, sometimes even leading to self-harm or worse.

So, kudos to all involved; however, our job is far from done, to ensure that all genders in Malta enjoy equal rights and opportunities.

We must admit that in certain areas our society remains a male-dominated one. While women have made enormous strides in several sectors, in some cases such as higher education even trumping their male colleagues, the glass ceiling is still very solid and very much in place.

The extra baggage carried by women is immense, and while some of it is the result of cultural biases, I’m afraid that another good chunk comes from situations we can address.

Domestic violence remains an issue in Malta. Episodes of violence against women, occur all too commonly, and sadly sometimes end in tragic ways. It is not enough for us to be mortified when the country is shocked by similar incidents – we need to do something about it.

As Attard Previ noted in Parliament, there is an extremely serious issue when it comes to pending cases of domestic violence – more than 2,000, with most of them being heard by just two magistrates!

Are we waiting for another Bernice Cassar to shock us to our senses? Haven’t we learnt our lesson yet? It is evident that our judicial system needs more resources to cope with the considerable backlog before it is too late. We need to truly provide protection to the victims before it is too late.

The quicker we realise that we cannot have a society that discriminates between genders, the quicker will we grow into a more mature country that values all members of society no matter their identity, race, or colour.

On a final note, this week we also saw a surprise cabinet reshuffle. I wish all Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries the very best. I wish that after all the song and dance for gender-quotas and equal representation in Parliament, the Prime Minister would have taken the trouble to choose more women to serve in senior positions. Female representation at cabinet level is still utterly ridiculous, and completely dominated by men. Someone cinical wouldn’t be blamed to think that the entire gender-quote mechanism was a seat-grabbing exercise, and women were used in the process.  This does not augur well.

Only through proper action and cross-parliamentary collaboration will we manage to make the necessary cultural shift that will truly bring the change needed. As I already said, we have come a very long way, and all steps are lauded. Let’s truly create a society which is completely blind to genders, a safe environment for women and men to be who they really are, far from prejudice and violence.

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