Stereotypes continue to obstruct women’s access to their fundamental human rights


For International Women’s Day 2015, which falls on Sunday 8 March, it is worth reviewing the concluding observations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The UN published its observations on Malta in November 2010, over four years ago.

Inspired by various Maltese organisations having publicised their planned activities to commemorate International Women’s Day in recent weeks, aditus would like to call attention to the UN’s comments on the prevalence of stereotypes in the Maltese psyche.

“[T]he Committee remains concerned about the persistence of patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and in society. Women continue to be stereotyped as mothers and caregivers, while men are stereotyped as breadwinners. Such stereotypes undermine women’s social status, as reflected in their disadvantaged position in areas including in the labour market and in access to political life and decision-making positions, and affect women’s choices in their studies and professions.”

Maltese women should – and they do – aspire to more than their traditional roles. While there is no shame in motherhood, caregiving and the responsibilities that come with raising a family, all these must be shared equally with men. Beyond or beside motherhood, women must be encouraged to exploit their potential as men are – every day, unquestioningly, as gifted and invested members of society.

We all know and admire Maltese women who are labourers, professionals, artisans, skilled tradespeople, volunteers – and the list goes on. They may or may not be wives and mothers. So why are our national Women’s Day activities seemingly so confined by the idea that women need to be coddled.

And at the same time, they must absolutely concern themselves with remaining desirable to men. We all know that men’s identities are allowed to be – and are expected to be – so much richer.

aditus foundation rejects the idea that the only or most important roles for every woman are those of wife and mother. We reject that women can only assert strength in the home, if at all – and that when they take the opportunity to think about womanhood, they must be passive recipients of new hairstyles, makeup tutorials, aromatherapy sessions and fashion shows.

Please, parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, friends and relatives, start with your girls. Girls who understand their potential and are unafraid of demonstrating their ambitions become women of confidence, kindness, intelligence, fortitude and boundless resources for success. The more we raise girls to take care of themselves, be independent and make their own decisions, the better and healthier we all and our society will be – including, of course, our men and boys.

“Stereotypes continue to obstruct women’s access to their fundamental human rights. When women do not feel free to express all of who they are and what they aspire to, they become submissive in their own lives. With overcoming stereotypes comes the true achievement of the principle of equality enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” – Neil Falzon, Director

“All rights for women is not enough. All rights for all women” – International Women’s Day 2013

On tomorrow’s annual commemoration of International Women’s Day, aditus foundation notes that whilst Malta has seen notable improvements through the adoption of legislation, policies and services attempting to secure equal access to all human rights, women in Malta continue to face a series of challenges effectively limiting their human rights enjoyment.

In this regard, aditus foundation strongly reiterates the serious concerns expressed in 2010 by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in its Concluding observations on Malta.  The Committee urged Malta to ensure a national and comprehensive policy targeting stereotypical attitudes that treat women solely as mothers, wives and caregivers, undermining their equal dignity and status in other sectors of civic life.

Our concern regarding gender stereotyping is aggravated by the Committee’s underlining of its direct link with incidents of violence against women. We also fully support the Committee’s recommendation that Malta reclassifies rape and violent assault as Crimes against the Person (Title VIII, Criminal Code), instead of their present grouping under Crimes against the Peace and Honour of Families and against Morals (Title VII, Sub-title II, Criminal Code).

“Violence against women remains a serious problem of national importance.  We are happy to note that Malta signed the Council of Europe’s ‘Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’, but the Convention will only be relevant once it is ratified and incorporated in Maltese law.” (Dr. Neil Falzon, aditus foundation Director).

Together with the above, aditus foundation stresses that any measure seeking to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of women should do so with regard to all women.  Transgender women remain outside the law’s protection when this fails to recognise them as women, and transgender girls face inhumane difficulties in exercising their right to education.  Migrant and refugee women run the risk of becoming a socially marginalised group if they remain unable to access services supporting their integration and, where necessary, their physical and psychological rehabilitation.  Double discrimination further exacerbates the situation of these women.

“International Women’s Day is a reminder to not only secure all rights for women, but to secure them for all women.” (Dr. Neil Falzon, aditus foundation Director).