Christmas is a time to pause for reflection, a perfect time to look back at the year gone past and contemplate on the year ahead. It is a time to remember what saddened us, what inspired us and gave us hope as well as a time to ponder on what’s next.

So how was 2018 for women in Malta and what lies ahead in 2019?

This year we transposed the Istanbul Convention into our laws. I was so thrilled when it happened because finally Malta had a law that recognised that violence against women is a breach of a woman’s human right. Yet, I was shocked in with what ensued - the murder of four women whose lives were taken away by those that claimed to ‘love’ them.

The last femicide prompted a march in Valletta. There is no consolation to these womens’ families, but the fact that that march was attended by so many, including those that at times do not see eye to eye on particular issues, gave me hope – at least for few moments.

Read: Lourdes, Shannon, Jane... and other victims remembered

Until a week later, the decision taken by Alfred Grixti, the head of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services, to stop social workers cooperating with NGOs on cases related to domestic violence, and especially Women’s Rights Foundation, brought me back to the ground.

I cannot not mention particular decisions taken by our courts (John Suda, Fr Charles Fenech Anthony McGahren, to name few) and that the comments that ensued still come to show that tradition of victim blaming and minimising the guilt of men at the expense of women is still going strong in this country.

And yes, we still have those that are calling women names with impunity, being called out or defended in the social media depending on their political affiliation and/or political context rather than their misogyny.

On a positive note, there are signs that the government intends to do something about human trafficking, prostitution and political representation of women in parliament – definitely looking forward to see how that will pan out.

Read: Break the cycle of domestic violence, ministry says

So, more or less, a roller-coaster – up and down we go.

'Stuck in time on reproductive rights'

But what about sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, the area where Malta remains stuck in time whilst the rest of the world moved on?

Well, for the country that does not even want a debate – there was a lot of it. Just a brief recap: In January - Nils Muižnieks, then Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights - wrote to the Prime Minister followed by Joseph Muscat's disappointing response (because, with all due respect, you do not hide behind the lack of political mandate to exonerate yourself from protecting women rights).

This was later followed by the Council of Europe quarterly report stating “the Commissioner called for a public debate on abortion and the infringements of women’s human rights resulting from its prohibition.”

March was the month when WRF published its position paper on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

Read: Women should have access to abortion in at least four circumstances - paper says

There was also a visit to Malta by Catholics for Choice that held one of its value clarification workshops, which was a pure eye opener for all those attending.

May has seen the referendum to change the constitution and legalise on demand abortion up to 12 weeks in Ireland. It’s true that it happened abroad, but this fact left Malta alone within the EU and as one of the four remaining countries in the world still denying women’s rights to safe, legal and free abortion.

Herman Grech’s play De-terminated – The Abortion Diaries was performed in October. It was an engaging and captivating production, matched only by a brilliant performance of the actors and actresses taking part.

Read: As abortion debate opens up, theatre reflects and responds

November was the month when ‘Breaking the Taboo Malta’ Facebook page was set up for women in Malta to share their abortion experiences.

And, just this month, we had an interview with Prof. Pierre Mallia, chairperson of the Bio-Ethics consultative committee, that was quite revealing – both in terms of his confirmation that abortions do take place in Malta (under a guise of double effect principle – more on that later) and more interestingly because he appeared to be one of those to get the point.

He stated clearly that he is personally against abortion but also stated “What right do I, or anyone else, have to tell you to remain pregnant, irrespective of the reason?” That was a breath of fresh air.

The main difference between 2018 and before is that there are pro-choice arguments in the media, social and traditional, still drowned into usual apologetics, but not half as bad as before.

Yes, there are usual rants by the same old tiring crowd, but they are not the only ones talking. That’s healthy in every respect. And on behalf of WRF, I can only promise that there will be much more – both action and debate - in the forthcoming year.

So for women, 2019 can only be onward and upward. Against the tide and in the face of adversity. As women have always done.


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