• Womens Rights Foundation

The State of Women In Malta

About Women’s Rights Foundation


Organization Objectives

Women’s Rights Foundation (WRF) is a local non-governmental organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women.


WRF provides information, legal assistance and psycho-social support to ensure protection of women and children within the community and shelter. Primary focus is given to domestic violence, sexual exploitation of women, including human trafficking and gender discrimination.

WRF also advocates for women’s issues and ensures that women’s rights are respected and adhered to, particularly but not limitedly, their sexual health and reproductive rights.

Recognising the importance of training and prevention, WRF also provides to training to professionals and prevention programmes in schools and community.


Description and organisation of the Board

WRF is administered by a Board of Governors, which is responsible for and determine the general policy for performing, carrying out and exercising the objects, function and powers of the Foundation in accordance with its Charter.


Organization’s management structure

WRF is a relatively small organisation, with a simple management structure. The Director retains overall responsibility for management, and a number of coordinators are responsible for the provision of particular services or the coordination of particular activities.

The Finance and Administration Coordinator carries out the administrative work of the organisation, including keeping the accounts, conducting the day-to-day administration, and providing the support necessary for the smooth-running of the organisation’s activities.

Responsibility for coordination of projects undertaken by the organisation is assigned to specific members of staff, according to the nature of the project. Any staff recruited to provide services within the project, will be accountable to the staff member assigned to act as Coordinator, who is in turn accountable to the Director.


Current ongoing work and projects

At present, WRF is participating as a partner in a number of projects funded by United Nations Human Trafficking Fund, Commonwealth, EIGE, Malta Community Chest Fund and Small Scheme Initiative (Malta). All projects are in line with the work of the foundation and focus on empowerment of women and girls as well as gender equality.

WRF has also been entrusted with providing legal support to all rape victims that approach the national Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).

We also offer an ongoing service to women and their children who directly contact us for their support. Majority of this service is provided through volounteer professionals.


Affiliations

WRF is a member of the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organisations and Network Forum Malta. It is also member of Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) and European Women’s Lobby (EWL). At present, our director is a member of the Observatory against Violence on Women of EWL.


Achievements at a glance


Legal advice and representation

WRF successful and direct service is that of providing timely, quality, accessible, free legal advice and information and representation for women, particularly those in shelter.

In 2016 we gave advice and assisted in 223 cases of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, sexual harassment from partners, husbands or other members of the family. The ages of the service users ranged from 15years to 72years. Most cases were referred to WRF from other services, including Agenzija Appogg, police, shelters, NGO’s. From the cases, 17 women were migrant women. Training was also provided to general public, members of the judiciary, lawyers and other professionals working in the field of domestic violence.

WRF also assisted in identifying 33 victims of human trafficking. At present it is representing 42 victims of human trafficking. WRF provided training on Maltese legislation on human trafficking, upon invite of the International Office of Migration (IOM). Training was given to police, border control, office of the attorney general’s office, lawyers and members of the judiciary.

Legal representation was also provided to 2 victims of prostitution, 1 victim of gender based violence and 8 victims of rape.

WRF further filed 2 constitutional cases arguing that certain articles of various laws are discriminatory against women.


ADVOCACY


Emergency Contraception



2016 was a landmark year for WRF. In June it filed a judicial protest on behalf of 102 women arguing that lack of accessibility and availability of the emergency contraception in Malta was tantamount to discrimination against women in Malta and such decision went against the fundamental human rights of women. Following this, WRF attendant various media debates as well as the joint parliamentary committee set up to debate the matter. WRF was proud to see that the respective authority namely the Medicine Authority has authorised the sale of emergency contraception in Malta and has further ensured that it is made available over the counter.


‘ONE TOO MANY’

WRF was also pivotal in ensuring that implementation be seen to at it’s earliest following it’s ratification in 2014.

Last year, the country sadly saw 2 mothers whose lives where violently taken by their partners. In July 2016, WRF held a march protest called ‘One too Many’. It was an event that remembered all those women victims of femicide. The event further called for the swift implementation of the Istanbul Convention into local legislation. Subsequently the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Social Liberties issued the proposed legislation for public consultation, to which WRF gave its extensive feedback and recommendations,


Awareness raising Campaigns

WRF partook in a number of awareness campaigns organised by other local NGOs, such as One Billion Rising organised by Victim Support Malta, Domestic Violence walk organised by Commission for Domestic Violence, call for emergency contraception to be offered over the counter organised by GEM.



Women’s Day

This year WRF organised a successful event for Women’s Day that went with the name ‘Women for Change’. A number of speakers were invited to partake and was well attended. The main aim of this event was to highlight that women can and do bring change in our society. Following this event, local debate developed to talk about female representation in parliament.



Training and Workshops

WRF firmly believes that training for staff is a crucial component for bettering the services. Our volounteers have been given the opportunity to attend training, workshops and round table talks on various topics such as children’s access to justice held by the President’s Foundation, a close group workshop organised by Men against Violence with renowned guest lecturer Prof Michael Flood, Zero Tolerance provided by the Ministry for Social Solidarity and Dialogue and webinars organised by European organisation WAVE.

WRF has also provided training for lawyers, members of the judiciary, police enforcement, social workers and other stakeholders on domestic violence, violence against women and human trafficking. It further partook in EU and international conferences dealing with femicide, human trafficking and violence against women, both locally and abroad. WRF also partook in conferences on Cost Action Femicide Across Europe, in house training organised by the Commission on Domestic Violence and will be a speaker at the conference to be held in Denmark on Sexual Harassment organised by the European Commission.


Our Concerns

  1. Violence Against women

Malta has seen an increase in domestic violence cases in recent years, making it the second most reported crime in 2016. FRA has estimated that 1 in 4 women in Malta fall victim of domestic abuse and that 1 in 5 girls experience sexual harassment by the age of 15. It is further estimated that the costs for Malta when dealing with intimate partner violence amount to €90,302,273 per year and that gender based violence against women is €186,882,244 per year.


We feel that these statistics are very telling in themselves and corroborate the reality of the harsh situation of violence against women in Malta. These statistics are only limited to domestic violence and do not take into account the costs and figures of femicide, human trafficking and gender discrimination against women. We are certain that if one had to factor all forms of violence against women, the picture would be even more striking.

We are of the belief that prevention is a major component to tackle the issue of violence against women. The government’s current effort through the Zero Tolerance project is major step forward in this regard. However, given that this is limited to a project it is still not clear what actual commitment the government has to ensure a continuum in preventive measures. Considering the EIGE costings referred to above, this would to a fraction of the costs to the economy.


WRF calls for urgent address at state level to ensure that its obligations and commitments are adhered to without delay and policy and legislation dealing with equality and focusing on violence against women are swiftly implemented.

  1. Gender Equality Gap

According EIGE updated report 2015, Malta is in the 16th place when compared to the other 28 Member States. Malta has scored high in access to health and access to work, however we are still at a far reaching low with women being involved in decision making positions. Malta also scored low in measuring equality and time, thus resulting that women spend more time on caring and nurturing.

To us these figures are reflective of the situation for women in Malta. In this regard, we have high praises that Malta has indeed made great strides in ensuring that women have access to work and free child care measures have most certainly helped in this regard. However, this has also put more pressure on women, who now are not only expected to work and contribute financially, but are also expected to continue in their role as care givers and nurturers of their children and dependent family members.

The introduction of paternity leave, together with a push towards a true gender equality policy and system would help lessen the equality deficit. Also the introduction of gender quotas would also lead to see more women in political and decision making positions.

  1. Poverty

Most of our service users and their children are living in impoverished situations, especially those that have been rendered homeless due to violent situation that they were facing within the setting of their homes that would have had to leave with nothing but their basic belongings and do not have access to financial means.

Although Maltese women and women that have paid social security contributions are entitled to social benefits, these benefits take over 6 weeks to be received thus leaving women and children in a situation of being totally dependant on donations and the good will of others. Migrant women who are victims of violence and do not have children of Maltese nationality or not spouses of Maltese nationals are not entitled to such contribution. We feel that this highly discriminatory towards these women that had to endure much hardship and violence and is totally contrary to international state obligations.

Housing is another matter that is of concern. Due to an increase in rent prices, many are those women that are not in a position to be able to afford rent for basic lodging. As highlighted above, most women and children leaving violent homes would leave with minimal basic needs and are more often than not deprived of their finances as a result of the abuse encountered. Although we welcome the tapering scheme offered as subsidy for rent, this scheme is only made available to women that return back to the working world. This is not always possible nor easy for single mothers that have to take care of their children without any support structure.


The free child care system has brought much good to working mothers and has most definitely helped in moving women forward and garner financial independence. Nevertheless, we feel that this initiative should take into consideration situations were women are living in violence. We have come across cases where children of single mothers facing violent situations were refused entry into the child care facility because the mother is not work on full time basis. There are also situations were mothers find it difficult to seek employment because they have to care for their young ones that are not yet eligible for full time education. Thus they were facing a catch 22 situation were on the one hand they wanted to seek employment but could not do so due to the fact that they would have had to pay for care of their children in order to do so. Another pressing situation is the consent required from the abusive parent to enrol children into the scheme. In an intimate partner abusive relationship, it is a fact that control of most forms exist. One being the control of movement and choice of the women. In the vast majority of the cases that we have assisted, many women are not in a position to obtain consent from the father of their children to attend child care as the he would adamantly refuse to give it, arguing that the mother’s role is to take care of the children or simply as a form to exert control over the woman. This same situation applies for mothers that would require the consent of the other parent to transfer children to other schools as they would have left their homes and relocate to another town. This situation is becoming more pressing in light of the fact that here it is not only the mother that is suffering but also children that are being deprived from their right to education because of their abusive parent. We strongly urge that this matter is attended to without delay so as to ensure that basic rights of both mother and children are seen to. In this sense we recommend that consent is not required from the abusive parent.

We have also come across situations whereby mothers are full time carers of their disabled children. Here we also applauded the government’s initiative that took into account situations were family members have dedicated their full time attention to see to the needs of family members, however the law is also grossly unjust as this fails to take into account that there are a number of parents, particularly mothers that are in full time care to see to the needs of their disabled children. At present, carers entitled to benefit are “single or married and is solely taking care of a relative (spouse/ parent/ brother/ sister/ grandparent/ uncle/ aunt/ father or mother-in law/ brother or sister-in-law) living within the same household as defined in the Social Security Act.


Child support and spousal maintenance is also failing in structure and system. At law, parents are obliged to see to the needs of the children and spouses alike. In violent relationships, it is well documented that financial control or deprivation thereof and using the children are common tools used by perpetrators. Despite the difficulty that will be highlighted in accessing the legal system, there are a vast majority of women, victims of violent relationships that are not receiving child support. Fathers claim in open court that they would rather face prison time than furnish the ordered child support to the mothers of their children. The undue length of court system is also further strain on single mothers that would not only have to take time off work to attend court sittings that are deferred for lack of show of the charged parent, but also appealed cases are taking more than 2 years for them to finalised. Ultimately, for most mothers, prison is not the solution either. In this regard, we recommend that a child support agency be set up that would provide the child support on behalf of the parent who is duty bound to provide it and then it would be up to the agency to recover the maintenance from the parent. We are of the belief that this system would not only help women, but also is within the best interest of the child. It will further reduce the number of court cases burdening the justice system and reduce costs that are burdening the police and court system, since it would be the centralised agency that would have such power.


Poverty is a reality for many women and children, victims of violence. In view of the above, WRF recommends that policy and set guidelines are implement within the civic structure to ensure that social assistance is provided immediately and without delay. On the above raised issues, WRF further recommends the following:-

  • Social benefits to women that are in violent relationships, especially those that had to leave home and are in shelter is made available within days.

  • Dispense with the consent of the abusive parent for access to education and psycho-social support for children.

  • Ensure that free child care is provided to all working mothers and that measures are provided to mothers seeking employment

  • Provide housing facility and incentives to women that are victims of domestic violence

  • Create a Child Support Agency

  1. Protection Orders

At present our law permits protection orders to be issued by the Criminal Court and by the Civil Court, presently that being the Family Court.

The main aim of a protection order is meant to provide immediate protection to the victim of domestic violence from the perpetrator. The majority of our clients are finding great difficulty in ascertaining their safety and being adequately protected by measures at law, particularly with requesting Protection Orders. From our observations the major difficulties being faced are the following:-

  • Lack of awareness about the possibility of requesting Protection Orders by victims, police, other services working with these victims.

  • Lack of understanding of Protection Orders amongst lawyers, judiciary, court workers.

  • The time frame within which it is issued.

  • Once issued, lack of knowhow of what to do if breached, particularly by the executive police.

  • Lack of understanding of the content of the Protection Order to victims and further more so, the perpetrators themselves.

  • The lack of empathy by all involved; and

  • Protection Orders when requested in the Family court may only be issued in cases of separation, thus discriminating against those that are not married and yet being in intimate relationships, single parents and in civil unions.

Malta has a legal obligation that effective protective measures are available, accessible and free as in term of the Istanbul Convention. Yet we note that whilst our laws do provide for both Protection Orders and Restraining orders as per Articles 412C and 382 respectively of the Criminal Code, there are no adequate measures in place to provide for such measures to be taken without due delay. As explained above, a protection order locally may be requested/issued ex officio by the Criminal court or Family court. However, in the criminal cases, such demand may only be made once the case is brought to court, whereby in the majority of the cases this takes months to reach our courts. Within the remit of the Family court, a protection order may be requested by any of the parties and is to be appointed for hearing within 4 working days. Sadly this is not always the case, thus leaving victims at a loss and living in constant fear, many not being able to leave their place of refuge or even attend to work.


For the above reasons, WRF recommends the following to ensure that demand and execution of protection orders are reflective of the current Istanbul Convention:-

  1. A request for a civil protection order to apply not only in cases of separation, but also to those victims as defined in Article 3 (a) and (b) of the Istanbul Convention.

  2. Request for a protection order may be made by any party, or by a social worker or lawyer on behalf of, by filling out a form, without payment that is presented in the competent court and is issued provisionally.

  3. Such request is to be appointed for hearing to determine whether there is prima facie evidence for its effects is to be confirmed, thus making it akin to precautionary warrants.

  4. Once breached, the executive police are to arrest and arraign with immediate effect.

  5. Breach of protection order is to carry both criminal sanction (as is currently in Article 402C of Chap 9) and a civil sanction.

  6. Compulsory training is to be given to members of the judiciary, court workers, lawyers and police.

  7. Introduce a specialised court to deal with matters pertaining to domestic violence.

  8. Forced Marriage


Today Malta has a diverse population of various migrants hailing from all corners of the world, with each having and bringing their various customs and traditions.

As wonderful as this is, however, we are also beginning to see that there are cases where customs and traditions are also being practiced on our shores, customs such as forced marriage were young girls are being forced to enter into marriages by their parents.

Particular reference is being made to the recent case were a 13 year old Syrian girl, has been promised to marriage to her 23 year old uncle. Although the matter was brought to the relative authorities, nothing has been done or could be done. In fact, as far as we are aware, Child Protection Unit from Agenzija Appogg have not taken on the case and merely passed the buck to the Police. On the other hand, the police were not in a position to do anything due to the reading of the present law.

Whilst welcoming the introduction of the criminality of forced marriage into our Criminal Code as per Article 251G, from the reading of the law it appears to only be applicable to cases were a marriage has taken place. Furthermore, only marriages as per the Marriage Act are recognized in Malta, thus having a situation where traditional marriages, such as Islamic ones are not recognized and nothing can be done at law. Malta is legally bound itself to take all necessary measures to ensure the prevention of forced marriage as per EU law and international obligations.


WRF recommends that the current Article be added the following:-

  1. If the a person believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.

  2. Include the definition of marriage so as to include both religious and civil ceremonies, whether or not they are legally binding.

  3. Video conference


According to A DIRECTIVE 2012/29/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, it is clearly stated that victims:-

The following measures shall be available for victims with specific protection needs identified in accordance with Article 22(1) during court proceedings:

(a) measures to avoid visual contact between victims and offenders including during the giving of evidence, by appropriate means including the use of communication technology;

(b) measures to ensure that the victim may be heard in the courtroom without being present, in particular through the use of appropriate communication technology;

(c) measures to avoid unnecessary questioning concerning the victim's private life not related to the criminal offence; and

(d) measures allowing a hearing to take place without the presence of the public.

It is worth noting, however, that according to the Victims of Crime Act, Chapter 539 Laws of Malta, no such right is to be found in law, despite that the Directive clearly states this obligation.

It is unacceptable that we still do not have a law that recognizes the right of victim to choose whether to testify in person or via video conference, but rather laws that leave it up to court and ministerial prerogative.

The Criminal Code Chapter 9, states that the 'court may, if it deems it proper so to act, allow for the audio recording or for the video-recording of any evidence required from a witness.'

From the present laws, if one had to have a look at Art. 90 of the Malta Police Act, it states that, amongst others, ' any victim of any crime against the peace and honour of families' testify via video conference.'

Furthermore, the same Article of law continues to read that the Minister of Justice, together with the Minister for Interior Affairs, have to competence 'to lay down such rules of procedure and of evidence as may be necessary for such purpose as well as to secure greater protection of the personal safety, sense of modesty, psychological stability of such witnesses as may, on account of special circumstances, require such protection.'

According to Article 56 (1) of Chapter 532 of the Laws of Malta, COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONVENTION ON PREVENTION AND COMBATING OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE (RATIFICATION) ACT that has come into law since 17th June 2014 states that the State has an obligation “to protect the rights and interests of victims, including their special needs as witnesses, at all stages of investigations and judicial proceedings.....ensuring that contact between victims and perpetrators within court and law enforcement agency premises is avoided where possible; to enable victims to testify....in the courtroom without being present or at least without the presence of the alleged perpetrator, notably through the use of appropriate communication technologies...


In light of the above, we call that action is taken and responsible Ministers use their prerogative, as obliged by law, and ensure that the necessary procedural rules to protect the victims are put in place.

  1. Legal Aid

Whilst welcoming the initiative of the Legal Aid Agency, we have concerns as to whom can qualify for legal aid.

We have recently come across cases were victims of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse have not qualified for this service, since they are working.

As victims of violence, many women and mothers are being faced with financial hardship as due to the abuse they would have had to leave their homes with their children, sought shelter or ended up having to rent and still have to provide for their livelihood for themselves and their children. Although they would be working, they are facing great financial difficulties to try to make ends meet for basic needs, let alone having to pay legal and court fees, which can be rather costly.

Furthermore, there is also a great discrepancy to as to who can qualify for legal aid. In this sense, within the criminal fora, anyone can be provided with a legal aid lawyer, even if they are financially viable, but simply did not engage a lawyer, yet within the civil setting, applicants for legal aid have to be means tested.


To this effect, WRF recommends victims of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking be eligible for legal aid within the civil fora.

  1. Prostitution and human trafficking

WRF is very pleased to see that the government is truly seeking to address the issue of prostitution, particularly with the appoint of a parliamentary secretary dedicated to the issue. As an organisation, WRF has always stated that prostitution is another form of violence against women. With the stigma that lies with women who end up in prostitution, leaves them by far more vulnerable to report and seek support.

From legal research conducted, we are very troubled by the routes taken by prosecution and courts when coming to punish prostitution. There have been numerous instances whereby women and their pimps would have been prosecuted and either receive the same punishment or acquittal of pimps and imprisonment for women.

Moreover, there seems to be little effort on behalf of police to take into account that some, especially those of foreign nationality, may also be trafficked for sexual exploitation. There still appears to be the belief that prostitution is only limited to the street, however both with the local scenario as well as international research, clearly indicate that pimps and traffickers have become more sophisticated in their work.

In our work on the ground, we have come across where foreign women where trafficked to work in massage parlours, gentlemen’s clubs or where kept in rented apartments. For their traffickers this is an easy way to control them and move them whenever necessary without attracting attention. Here, as an organisation, we are also very concerned with child victims of trafficking. Paedophilia is no new news in Malta and therefore we cannot exclude that this is not happening within our shores.

Malta is no exception to other forms of trafficking. Apart from sexual exploitation, we have in recent years also seen cases of trafficking for forced labour and domestic servitude.

We are very concerned that following the last case of human trafficking for labour in 2015, to date we are not aware that any other cases were brought to justice.


It is our position that the best way to fight prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation would be by introducing the Nordic Model that simply put is the criminilastion of buying of sex and decriminalise soliciting and loitering.

  1. Sexual and reproductive rights

Campaign for the introduction of emergency contraception has highlighted the lack of sexual education and reproductive health in Malta. Much ignorance on the matter was seen not only from the general public, but much scaremongering and morality blaming was thrown about. It was also evident that as a country, we are still patriarchal in our thought and view of women’s role in our society.

In this sense, we were happy to see the support given by the government that saw facts for what they are and proceeded to have emergency contraception not only available but easily accessible to women in Malta by making it available over the counter.

Yet the existence of lack of proper sex education amongst our teenage population continues to prevail. Although Malta’s teenage birth rate has decreased, this could very much be due to the fact that STDs have tripled over the years. We have seen cases where teenage girls as young as 14 years are suffering from chlamydia. Our teenagers continue to be promiscuous in their sexual activity and bullying behaviour.

Furthermore, Malta still fails to have some female contraception available and accessible such contraceptive implants and injections.


A healthy understanding of sexual health and behaviour, will help curb the imbalance of power and control between abusers and their women and girls. The same high quality sexual education should be normative and applicable to all schools in Malta. All forms of contraception available to women should be readily available. Certain contraception, namely condoms, contraceptive pill and emergency contraception should be available freely through the national health services, especially to students. Nation wide awareness raising campaigns on sexual health and reproductive rights should be held to educate the public on these matters.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Urgent address at state level to ensure that its obligations and commitments are adhered to without delay and policy and legislation dealing with equality and focusing on violence against women are swiftly implemented.

  • Setting up of a National Action Plan to tackle women’s issues.

  • Introduction of paternity leave, together with a push towards a true gender equality policy and system would help lessen the equality deficit.

  • Introduction of gender quotas so as to ensure that more female representation in political and decision making positions.

  • Policy and set guidelines are implement within the civic structure to ensure that social assistance is provided immediately and without delay.

  • Social benefits to be provided within days to women that are in violent relationships, especially those that had to leave home and are in shelter.

  • In care benefits to be made available to parents of disabled children.

  • Dispense with the consent of the abusive parent for access to education and psycho-social support for children.

  • Ensure that free child care is provided to all working mothers and that measures are provided to mothers seeking employment

  • Provide housing facility and incentives to women that are victims of domestic violence

  • Create a Child Support Agency

  • Protective measures to be made available without discrimination and easily accessible.

  • Effective police protection when there is breach of protective measures.

  • Compulsory and continual training is to be given to members of the judiciary, court workers, lawyers, police and other professionals working with survivors of violence.

  • Introduce a specialised court to deal with matters pertaining to domestic violence.

  • Video conferencing is available to victims of gender based violence.

  • Legal aid is freely available to victims of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and human trafficking be eligible for legal aid within the civil fora.

  • Nordic model is introduced to fight prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation

  • Same high quality sexual education should be normative and applicable to all schools in Malta.

  • All forms of contraception available to women should be readily available.

  • Nation wide awareness raising campaigns on sexual health and reproductive rights should be held to educate the public on these matters.

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