The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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TMID Editorial: Sending the wrong message

Friday, 19 April 2024, 11:39 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Labour government has a reasonably good track record when it comes to civil reforms, particularly concerning women’s rights. 

While some will argue that while the country still bans abortion one cannot make such a statement, the fact is that there have been several reforms which aim to improve how women are treated and represented in the country.

Amongst these are reforms to introduce femicide as a crime, the opening of a new hub for victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence recently, together with increasing resources at enforcement level within the country’s disciplined forces, and a number of other reforms.

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The intent is quite clear, but as with anything else, the intent must be backed up by actions and by sending the correct message. 

When Transport Malta’s Clint Axisa was charged in court with committing non-consensual sexual acts on a female co-worker and sexually harrassing her and another woman – accusations which he denies – he was suspended from his job at the transport agency.  So far, so good.

However, now, just over two years later, it has emerged that he has been reinstated to Transport Malta despite the court case still yet to conclude.  This runs counter to the Public Service Management Code which is meant to govern the rules for public employment.

According to these rules, employees in public posts charged with criminal offences in court must be suspended from their jobs until their proceedings are over.

Yet an exception has been made for Axisa – and for 35 other public officials who are facing criminal proceedings – despite the severity of the charges that he is facing.  The country’s opposition forces were quick to highlight the matter.

ADPD - The Green Party Chairperson and candidate Sandra Gauci said "Axisa, despite numerous accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace, has been allowed to work with a government agency again, as if nothing has happened. This continues to confirm that women are not respected by the Government. The revocation of Axisa's suspension from work, shows that to the Labour Government women remain objects - the hobby and pastime for some men.”

The PN a day later said that the Labour government is sending a very ugly message that sexual harassment can be excused, if not also acceptable. It added that the government is sending a message to victims of abuse that they should remain silent, not speak up and refrain from reporting such abuse since the abuser may have the government’s blessing and protection.

The PN said that Robert Abela’s government is once again showing that it is an unscrupulous government for whom what is wrong became right. The government says it is feminist, however, its behaviour shows the contrary, the PN said.

Both ADPD and the PN are of course right: can one even begin to imagine the effect such a decision could have on those who may be victims of sexual harassment on the workplace and who are afraid of taking the matter to the authorities?

This is mixed messaging at its finest: on one hand, the government speaks of new measures to improve women’s rights and to protect women, on the other hand it allows somebody accused of sexually harassing a woman back to the workplace.

The government’s current behaviour sends the wrong message to women – because they are being told that they aren’t guaranteed protection from anyone who may harass them – and to perpetrators – because they are being told that they can do as they please and still keep their job.

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