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What Social Progress Has Malta Made In 2020?

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As the year slowly draws to a close, it brings a time for many to look back at the year we have all had. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 will be on virtually everyone’s mind this festive season, yet one must ask what progress we have made this year.

For years, Malta has been hailed as a progressive nation that has made strides in areas such as LGBT rights. Yet this year, with all that has happened, what sort of progress has been made exactly?

Topics such as euthanasia, poverty, and homelessness have grown in prominence throughout the year whilst sexual health remains a gaping hole in our healthcare system and work still needs to be done to realise substantial cannabis reform.

Here’s a look at the progress, or lack thereof, on some of Malta’s key issues in 2020:

1. Euthanasia

Change: Little To No Progress

Though the debate between pro-life and pro-choice movements have shifted towards nearly entirely focusing upon abortion in the past few years, euthanasia is perhaps an equally divisive topic.

As things currently stand, all forms of euthanasia in Malta are illegal, yet a person has the right to refuse life-saving treatment or a passive form of euthanasia, like withdrawal of treatment. Whilst recently Lovin Malta reported that Spain was moving to legalise euthanasia and Assisted-Suicide, Malta has yet to properly start a debate on the topic.

Despite indications that public opinion may be warming up to the idea of euthanasia, it is hard to see whether any progress at all will occur on this topic in 2021.

This is shown to be even more prominent in light of two Ministers and a Labour MP have expressed their favour of voluntary euthanasia in a vox pop with Lovin Malta.

2. Sexual Health

Change: Regression

Sexual Health has always been a problem in Malta. Whether it is a reluctance to talk freely about the topic in public or not having the proper systems in place for those who need sexual health advice or treatment, Malta has seemingly always struggled.

Yet, in 2020, it is hard not to feel that there has been a regression that is larger in scope than we are used to seeing in the public eye.

As we reported previously, December has been marred by concerns over the situation for HIV patients in Malta who were left in a critical situation as Malta’s HIV medication supply abruptly dried up.

Though HIV medicine has since been delivered as of the writing of this article, cannot simply be attributed solely to Brexit – as this is an issue that Malta has been aware of for years. Thus, the question of why this situation ever rose up, is definitely a subject to consider.

Meanwhile, promises of a comprehensive sexual health policy are still unrealised and Malta’s GU clinic is still worryingly under staffed and under used.

3. Gender

Change: Progress

Back in 2017, Malta introduced the ability for citizens and residents to have a gender-neutral option on official documents – including passports, ID cards and residence permits.

In 2020, babies were extended to this allowance in which parents are now – via 42 legal amendments – able to place their baby’s gender as blank upon birth. Besides this, the amendments also introduced the ability for gender-neutral pronouns and referral terms to appear on official documents.

People who change gender also now have the right to change their original designation.

4. Abortion

Change: Slight Progress

Abortion has become a very prominent point of discussion in Malta over the past few years. Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups continue to debate almost daily regarding the topic.

This year, abortion has seen no real change in terms of legislation. However, it has arguably reached a never-before-seen level of conversation, both amongst the general public and even more significantly, amongst our politicians.

We have seen politicians like Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Rosianne Cutajar wade into the debate to try and dissuade the misconceptions and misinformation that surrounds the difference between contraceptive morning after pills and abortion itself.

Meanwhile, there has been a renewed focus on potentially opening up the procedure for life-saving treatment. Currently, Malta uses a double-effect principle to circumvent current legislation. However, cases of women waiting unnecessarily long for intervention despite life-threatening pregnancies continue on till today.

5. Cannabis

Change: Little Progress

2020 started off with a bang after Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Rosianne Cutajar released a 4/20 video backing the recreational use of cannabis. However, there has been slim progress on the issue.

Still, two cabinet members have spoke out about using cannabis in their lives, bringing increased attention to the issue. The UN’s reclassification of cannabis will change the complexion of the debate moving in 2021.

Another cannabis-related story that has taken the nation by storm is the explosive book by former prisoner Daniel Holmes, who was sentence to 10 years behind bars for cannabis cultivation.

His novel provides never-before-seen insights into Malta’s prison system and first-hand experiences of what it is like to be a prisoner. You can purchase a copy here.

6. Family Rights

Change: Little Progress

When it comes to family rights, nothing is as sensitive or as devastating as families being broken apart. This year, Malta has unfortunately seen a number of cases regarding parents struggling for custody of their children.

These stories have highlighted the issues within Family Court, a time-consuming affair that comes as one of the most difficult time periods for all parties involved – both parents and children.

Beyond that, 42 legal amendments to family law were introduced this year, including unmarried couples’ right to choose their own and their children’s surname. Men have now been given the option to taking their female partner’s surname as well.

7. Freedom of Speech

Change: Debatable

Perhaps what is the strangest issue, is that the topic of freedom of speech is even considered to be a social issue in Malta, in 2020. It is a Fundamental Human Right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet, this year has been a strange time for freedom of speech issues. Many are still undoubtedly uncertain of its integrity in the wake of the news regarding actress Pia Zammit losing her libel case against It-Torċa.

In many ways the controversial judgement – which was filed under the Media and Defamation Act which was repealed the Press Act in 2018 – is a difficult debate. The repealed law is technically one that is good for journalists and the media – which journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had suffered greatly with in terms of a slew of libel cases against her.

However, this law is hard to gauge in its benefits towards the general public. It is honestly a hard topic to consider, more so when the line between Freedom of Speech and Fake News is very thin.

The issue has even plagued government departments. Recently, the Education Ministry was forced to back track of demanding the resignation of the National Book Council Chairman Mark Camilleri following a public spat with one of Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers.

Camilleri, who first entered the public conscious as a fervent censorship campaigner, has apologised for the language use, but has defended his right to express himself how he sees fit.

 8. Poverty And Homelessness

Change: Progress

This year, a renewed focus on this topic has arisen – very much thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As countless families across Malta struggle with the economic effects of the pandemic, numerous NGOs have risen to the occasion.

Throughout the year, we have seen countless organisations and people doing their utmost to aid overwhelmed food banks and charities. These include Rafel Sammut’s Victory Kitchen that has made hundreds of meals and fed countless families during the pandemic.

Yet, the credit does not go just to one organisation. If there has been one thing that this pandemic has shown us, it is the true generosity and sense of community that the Maltese people are capable of – especially in times of strife.

Whilst government policies seemingly fail to reach some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, the Maltese sense of community and caring for your neighbour has only grown stronger this year.

What Can We Expect In 2021?

A week in politics is considered a long time. A year is thus, an eternity. It is difficult to say exactly what may be on the agenda for policy makers in 2021 but we can at least speculate from the trends we have seen so far.

  • Euthanasia is likely to continue to be a prominent topic. Already, we have seen politicians speaking in favour of it throughout 2020, whilst it may appear a more palatable topic for the general public.
  • Sexual Health is meant to be receiving promised overhauls in terms of policy and improvements to current facilities. Yet, the government’s record thus far with this topic easily leaves apprehension on whether this will become a reality.
  • Abortion is going to continue to be a hot topic in Malta, that much is quite certain. However, perhaps it is time to let 2021 be the year when a proper and informed discussion on the issue from both sides can take place?

How do you think Malta has fared with Social Issues in 2020? Let us know!

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