Chantelle was stabbed by Justin… and our cultural and social welfare deficits | Maria Brown

Expecting people to unlearn our galvanised gender stereotypes – just because relevant authorities argue that these are politically or morally incorrect – is unrealistic

Victim: Chantelle Chetcuti
Victim: Chantelle Chetcuti

Another woman was killed because a man could not cope with her rejection.

It is a testimony to the cultural and welfare deficits in concurrent Maltese society.

Culture, because people feel the pressure to live up to broadly accepted and deeply ingrained values and lifestyles. Some of these include living up to stereotypes they have been exposed to through various sources, ranging from sacred and conservative to profane, secular and irreverent, from the Bible to pornography, from the Curia to Parliament. Gender stereotypes are rife and rampant.

Setting in motion the country’s various reformative balls rolling has been laudable. They include legislating an electoral gender corrective mechanism, pursuing research through the European Observatory on Femicide, and championing the fight against the gender pay gap.

The urgent need to act, and to act fast is unquestionable. But not without giving due attention to the mitigation of what are the collaterals of rapid social change. And one of these collaterals is “anomic maladaptation”, which has turned out to be lethal.

What contributes to anomic maladaptation is the mismatch between norms and values into which we are socialised, and what a changing society starts expecting.

So expecting people (male, female and beyond) to unlearn our galvanised gender stereotypes – just because relevant authorities argue that these are politically or morally incorrect – is unrealistic!

Enhancing our adaptation to such societal changes requires embedding gender equity across the board, from compulsory to further and higher education but also with continuous professional development, adult learning and community-based programmes that include religious groups, political parties, etc.

Particularly in Malta, policies and practices targeting increased gender equity and fighting gender-based violence, would obtain higher rates of success if accompanied by enhanced social welfare measures.

Because, (please don’t just)… hear, hear: we have women who, contrary to national trends, are not managing to overcome material deprivation, and risk of poverty and social exclusion. Statistics show there are more women than men in this situation across all age groups, with the highest gender discrepancy among those of ages 55 and over.

Indeed, Malta also has one of the poorest maternity, paternity and parental leave provisions across the EU.

And what we want is more bonded and involved fathers. But employment law wants fathers back to work after a few days of childbirth; otherwise they have to rely on vacation or unpaid leave.

Incentives for male-dominated industries to provide childcare and afterschool services on their premises or nearby would facilitate men’s contribution to childcare. These would also boost chances of enhanced gender representation in the sector because more mothers would also be incentivised to seek employment in such industries.

In some cases, Malta still discriminates between state-funded entitlement of children to childcare and child development services on the basis of parental employment status. For instance, two-parent but single-earner families interested in registering children for the state-funded ‘Bridge Holidays’ service cannot do so – not even against payment [the bridge holidays service allows parents to enjoy the benefits of the Klabb 3-16 offered by the Foundation of Educational Services, during school holidays].

Yet public responses to proposals advocating broadening access to such services often feature critiques that demonise respective mothers as being more interested in their nail art than staying with their children.

And when engaged in public fora, such as politics, women are more likely to receive critiques underpinned by sexual (and sexist) references when compared to their male counterparts. A male politician’s competence may be poorly rated, but it is rarely associated with sexualised attributes – physical or behavioural.

Often women in public fora are implicitly and explicitly censored for looking ‘too feminine’ (as generally understood), otherwise their being taken seriously will be jeopardised. And this is a view which implies that the onus of where interlocutors’ thoughts wander whilst listening to a woman talking, is on the woman and her choice of attire!

On a more personal level, some shelter facilities ask women to leave if accompanied by a male child who turns 16. Some women endure domestic violence (spuriously) thinking it might be better absorbed by their children if they are older, only to find they might need to choose between living with their children, or seeking shelter.

Women are then punished by other restrictions that affect them physically which have enormous life-changing consequences.

Indeed, women are still shouldering the obligation of birth control because more male-centred methods such as vasectomies or the male pill are negatively stereotyped, framed with misinformation, under-researched or discouraged by health practitioners.

Women can be refused administration of the morning-after pill if practitioners in question deem it against their personal (not the patient’s) principles. Notably, this is also anomalous when compared to the blood transfusion policy, which is generally determined by the patient’s – not the practitioner’s – value-set.

Additionally, morning after-pills may not be sold to someone on behalf of the person who needs it.

In practice this means that, strictly speaking a woman who just suffered rape or for some other reason is risking an unwanted pregnancy has to (also) find the physical and mental strength to go shopping at the pharmacist as quickly as she can!

This list is longer than the number of femicides in Malta to date – but the latter will keep gaining ground unless stalled by a truly holistic approach.

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