Two separate studies of discrimination in Malta have revealed widespread ignorance of anti-discrimination agencies and legislation and showed up significant victim discomfort in reporting incidences of discrimination.

An overwhelming 70 per cent of respondents have never heard of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality or the Director of Industrial and Economic Relations, according to the findings of a qualitative survey of racial discrimination in Malta.

Over 40 per cent of different ethnic groups surveyed had experienced unfavourable treatment while buying goods or services, with respondents saying people often moved away from them or even threw them out of shops.

One respondent of African origin described going into a shop to buy a shirt and being told by the shop assistant he would not be able to afford it.

The author of the study, social scientist and university lecturer Marceline Naudi, said a number of respondents had experienced discriminatory language or behaviour by those closest to them.

“This form of racism is extremely insidious, because it occurs within an individual’s so-called ‘safe space’. When you experience discrimination within this space, you effectively have no safe space,” Dr Naudi explained.

The study was presented yesterday as part of a conference concluding the NCPE’s Think Equal project. The project sought to strengthen the understanding, promotion and communication of equality in Malta.

A second qualitative survey, tackling discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, also described several forms of discrimination.

A total 60 per cent of respondents said they experienced discrimination at the workplace due to their sexual orientation, while more than half had faced homophobic bullying at school.

Legislative protection for LGBT individuals is still conspicuous by its absence within Maltese law, and while almost two-thirds knew the law protected them from discrimination at the workplace, less than half were aware that this protection did not extend to other areas.

The blanket ban on gay men donating blood was the most frequently-referred to form of discrimination.

Although over half the respondents were aware of the existence of the NCPE, there was confusion as to what its function was.

Lead researcher Gabi Calleja quoted several respondents’ examples of LGBT discrimination. In one incident, a gay couple were made to leave a restaurant because of jeers from other patrons. In another, a gay man complained because hospital authorities would not acknowledge his long-term partner as his next-of-kin.


The rate of gays and lesbians who experienced discrimination at the workplace due to their sexual orientation

The study called for the government to replace existing equality legislation with a broader Equality Act that would align the levels of protection offered to different groups of people, including LGBT people. It also suggested transforming the NCPE into a broader equality body.

A third study, by senior lecturer Suzanne Gatt, surveyed 150 public sector employeesto see whether they experienced any forms of discrimination.

While most had not experienced discrimination themselves, they reported having witnessed incidents of discrimination related to ethnicity or sexual orientation.

According to the survey, women tended to have stronger anti-discrimination attitudes than men, Dr Gatt explained. Respondents in managerial roles were also more consistently knowledgeable about discrimination than those in non-managerial positions.

Dr Gatt suspected that while reported cases of discrimination were low, this had more to do with respondents not being entirely aware of what exactly constituted discrimination.

“Institutional discrimination is much harder to pinpoint. If applying for a benefit requires filling in a form, but I am illiterate or blind and there is no provision for helping me – what is that?” she asked rhetorically.

The NCPE will be publishing a 60-page discrimination-related booklet in Maltese and English over the coming weeks. The booklet is the result of an analysis of local bodies and organisations which provide discrimination-related services carried out by lawyers Neil Falzon and Adrian Mallia.

A total of 48 such organisations were identified, with all forms of discrimination – racial, disability, religious, sexual orientation, age and gender – covered.

The booklet, which contains a series of straightforward and concrete frequently asked questions concerning discrimination, will serve as a “bridge” between victims of discrimination and the organisations they can contact, Dr Falzon said.

He reiterated calls for a more harmonised approach in the way discrimination was defined, recorded and processed.

“As things stand, it is impossible to tell how many cases of discrimination have occurred in Malta, since there’s no common system for collecting statistical information.”

Bodies such as the NCPE, DIER and Office of the Ombudsman all had their own different systems of measuring discrimination, while Malta’s legislative framework meant that there was no all-encompassing “discrimination act”.

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