Embracing change for a better society | Helena Dalli

I am all for scrutiny and debate to ensure that the legislation finally adopted is the best possible outcome for those who need it most. However, the Bill will not be watered down merely to please the conservative wing of the Opposition.

In the almost five years that I have spent as minister, doomsday scenarios were raised every time I proposed a human rights Bill, and yet, every time, Malta was somehow spared by the forces that be, the sky didn’t fall, and we all moved on.

Change is part of life. It happens regardless of whether we like it or not. In itself, change is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, but rather an essential part of growth, transformation and regeneration.

Nonetheless, when we plan and execute the change that we want to see around us, especially when such a change emanates from a specific need, change becomes a force for good.

Indeed, this is the approach that my colleagues and I have taken towards human rights and equality matters since the beginning. Regardless of how popular or otherwise the proposed change could have been, we forged on – after consultation with the relevant stakeholders – and presented it to Parliament or through the pertinent policy framework.

We have done this through conviction. My reasoning has always been that of alleviating unnecessary suffering, and where possible, removing it entirely.

Gay people should have always been equal to heterosexuals in law. Yet they weren’t and we acted on it. Various laws, ranging from the introduction of civil unions to the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Constitution, as well as the recent introduction of marriage equality saw the gay community move from the periphery to the centre of society where they belong with the rest of us.

The same was true for transgender persons, who did not have the right to marry their heterosexual partners under the previous administration even after court decisions to the contrary. We acted quickly to remedy such a blatant breach of human rights and they are now able to lead their life without unnecessary hardship perpetrated by the state. The recent introduction of the X marker strengthened this transformation.

Parliament is now debating another Bill that I tabled. This time it regards gender-based violence and domestic violence. This Bill is not only a response to recent cases of gross abuse, but a long history of abuse that is usually suffered in silence. This Bill implements the Istanbul Convention fully and aims to reach the highest standard of human rights in the field.

We want to ensure that no stone is left unturned and that we protect victims and prevent violence, while coming down hard on perpetrators, helping them to learn that violence never solves problems, and also by providing them with the necessary treatment.

Yet, as has been the case during the time I have been minister, elements of the Opposition raised Armageddon scenarios once again. I would laugh it off, had the consequences of such critique not been so serious, and so retrograde.

Back in 2014, when we proposed civil union legislation, we were told that we were going to mess up the order of society and that unless a social impact assessment on several years was carried out, the Bill should not be moved forward. When marriage equality was progressing through Parliament we were told that the Bill would lead to the elimination of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Now, in the same hyperbolic fashion, we heard that the current Bill on gender-based violence and domestic violence is in fact a Trojan horse, in order to introduce abortion and render society genderless.

Don’t these critics realise that crying wolf where no wolf is in sight is only serving to compound the victims’ predicament? Don’t they know that there are three provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalise abortion and that this Bill leaves them intact? So, why are they so adamant to spread false claims?

While stating the above, I am all for scrutiny and debate to ensure that the legislation finally adopted is the best possible outcome for those who need it most. However, the Bill will not be watered down merely to please the conservative wing of the Opposition. This is because, my vocation and vision is set on improving people’s lives, and neither my colleagues nor I intend to leave those who need protection, without giving it to them in full.

Helena Dalli is Minister for European Affairs and Equality

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