Last year was pretty good for women in Malta. Their vocal and demonstrative efforts helped to legalise the morning-after pill within only a few weeks. But will the momentum continue in 2017? Abortion, a major women's issue in most parts of the world, is probably too thorny and divisive, but there are still other things we need to talk about that are just as deserving of advocacy.
The right to surrogacy
Many might not even be aware but surrogacy is illegal in Malta. Surrogacy is when a woman (who is called a surrogate mother) becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby in order to give it to someone who cannot have children. Advocates of surrogacy see it as a viable way for reproductively challenged couples to have their own children. Others see it as an exploitative use of a woman's body as a child-bearing vessel. But as the European Law Students Association Malta pointed out in their policy paper – 'Onto Regulating Surrogacy' – the picture is definitely not so black and white, and the total ban on surrogacy needs to be discussed. After all, shouldn't a woman (or anyone else really) have the right to have a child even if she is unable to bear it?
The question of embryo freezing
At the beginning of this year, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he would champion plans to introduce embryo freezing, which was banned in Malta in 2013 under the Embryo Protection Act made law by the Nationalist government. What is embryo freezing? It's when leftover fertilised embryos are frozen after a cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF), so that patients who struggling with infertility can become pregnant using them without having to go through another full IVF cycle. The fact that we don't allow embryo freezing decreases success rates of IVF – which is a colossal hardship for couples who are trying hard to start a family.
The fight for embryo freezing to make a comeback is underway. So we need to tune in and make sure our views are heard on this front in 2017 to get some answers either way.
The ban on sperm & egg donation
This is not just one for the girls, it's one that directly affects guys as well. But it's all good – we'll take one for the team. Okay, so let's rewind for one second. Yes, that's right – sperm and egg donation is illegal in Malta. We've seen it so much in the movies that it's almost shocking to believe that it doesn't exist as an option to Maltese people.
Nevertheless it is a fact, and it's directly affecting women who would like to have a child but are single, as well as same sexual couples who would also like to conceive. Some infertility problems in Malta are a result of not being able to get good eggs from women who are trying to get pregnant – and they can't get them donated from elsewhere, so their conception story has to end there.
The continuing fight for equal pay
So, the Constitution of Malta guarantees the same wages for women workers for work that's the same as men. The Employment and Industrial Relations Act regulates the equal pay for equal work provision, and requires that employees in the same class of employment are entitled to same rate of remuneration for work of equal value. In plain English – there's zero reason for women to be paid less than men if they're doing the same work. The truth? Malta's not doing so badly in this area. Our gender pay gap currently stands at 10.6% – 6.1% lower than the average gender pay gap in EU member states. But until the numbers are completely evened out, we should not stop talking about equal pay.
The question of tampon tax
Okay – period convo alert. Yup, half the world bleeds menstrually approximately every 28 days and requires sanitary products to not scare the living daylights out of everyone by leaving a messy trail behind them wherever they go. Around the world many groups and individuals have posed the question – why are these products still taxed?
So it's time we at least consider joining the band wagon and start thinking and talking about tax on tampons. Because if anyone argues that they're a luxury not a necessity... well we can always try the no tampon method and see how they like it.
The problem with paternal leave
Okay, women have the upper hand on parental leave in Malta – but that doesn't mean it's a good thing for them. Inequality in parental leave is arguably a great contributing factor as to why women may experience difficulty in re-entering the workforce, or even receiving promotion at work.
Let's break it down: a pregnant employee (so obviously, a woman) can resort to maternity leave for an uninterrupted period of 18 weeks, and the first 14 weeks have to be paid by the employer. On the other hand new fathers are granted a fully paid paternity leave of one day (yup, all of 24 hours) on the birth of their child.
We need to back our fathers up and put pressure on the government to revisit our parental leave laws. Let's take a leaf out of the Scandinavians' books and move towards a more balanced system, so that fathers and mothers can help each other out in a real way.