Equality cannot wait | Rosianne Cutajar

Rosianne Cutajar • The few, privileged opponents of this legislation will remark that it is unnecessary. I, beg to differ

The Equality Bill will allow those who allege discrimination in the selection of teachers for faith schools, to challenge such decisions
The Equality Bill will allow those who allege discrimination in the selection of teachers for faith schools, to challenge such decisions

Rosianne Cutajar is parliamentary secretary for equality

Many of us, thankfully, have never felt on our own skin what it is like to be treated less than another fellow human being, simply for being different.

We have never been treated with suspicion, never been denied a career opportunity, never been assaulted, due to our faith, or the colour of our skin, or who we choose to love.

However, we must acknowledge that this is not everyone’s experience in our country. Every day, different groups are facing discrimination and exclusion, as they attempt to go about their daily lives. We must face this reality, and we must address it – now.

As policymakers and legislators, we could have taken the easy road and looked the other way. Our values impede us from doing so. That is why, year after year, consecutive Labour administrations have tackled thorny – and at times controversial – issues head on. My predecessors, as well as present colleagues, have transformed the legislative framework for minorities in Malta, and I am proud to further this commitment as Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms.

Our next decisive reform will come in the form of two legislative proposals: the Equality Bill and the Human Rights and Equality Commission Bill. If approved by Parliament, these new laws will drastically strengthen the legal framework protecting the rights of every individual, and establish a new entity to act as Malta’s human rights watchdog, among other important roles.

The few, privileged opponents of this legislation will remark that it is unnecessary; that Maltese law already prohibits discrimination, or that the existing fora already provide sufficient remedies for victims of discrimination. With all due respect, I beg to differ. The number of cases brought before our current Equality Commission, for instance, are few and far between, and are far from a true representation of the discriminatory acts occurring in our communities every single day.

Law and reality are clearly far apart.

The reasons for this are various, but they include legal provisions that are unclear or limited, a lack of awareness of one’s rights, legal proceedings that are lengthy and unaffordable, and at times, situations that are simply not covered by our current laws. An overhaul in this area is therefore long overdue. As we drafted these proposals, we asked ourselves, why does discrimination still endure in Malta? Why are our laws and policies so clearly insufficient? Most importantly, what can we do better to address an issue that affects every single aspect of our lives?

The two Bills are a representation of our vision in this regard. We believe that every individual, irrespective of their characteristics, deserves to live a life that is free from discrimination. We believe that where such discrimination occurs, remedies must be just, accessible, and expeditious. And as Government, these laws will oblige us to put our money where our mouth is, by establishing and enforcing equality mainstreaming policies across the board.

Labour’s legacy has always been based on progress and justice. I am humbled to be able to further this mission for the betterment of society.

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