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The future is female, wiping out the past

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat flanked by Helena Dalli, approved as Equality Commissioner on Wednesday.

Joseph Muscat gave a speech at the United Nations last week where he told a sparsely populated room that, “The future is female”.

The Prime Minister was careful to focus his self-praise on his government’s efforts to get more women into the workforce, which he described as “a silent social revolution”, words happily repeated by MEP Alex Agius Saliba at Helena Dalli’s grilling at the European Parliament on Wednesday for her to get the role of Equality Commissioner. I suppose we might take these words at face value, as long as we ignore a few shocking realities.

Take Malta’s domestic violence statistics, for example. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), the severity of violence in Malta ranks as one of the worst in the EU. When you consider the number of women being assaulted, stalked, murdered and raped in the country, the mismatch between Muscat’s (and Dalli’s) lofty words and reality reads like shameless hypocrisy.

The Prime Minister also told the UN, “I firmly believe that the strong worldwide momentum pushing for women’s rights should inspire leaders to review the pace of progress and ensure that governments commit to achieving gender equality in our lifetime.”

And yet his government has been called out by the US State Department for not meeting “minimum standards” for eliminating human trafficking. Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation made up over half of all victims identified in Europe. Two-thirds of these were women and girls.

An investigation by The Shift revealed that individuals charged with forced prostitution and human trafficking were openly operating brothels in Malta. Rather than brag about his government’s efforts to get more women into the workforce, they may want to do something about getting women out of the illicit sex trade that is festering away on his own small island.

The Prime Minister’s oversight reminds me of Malta’s Ambassador to Austria making a speech about media freedom in Malta, citing all the paper laws her government had passed — the “extended fundamental rights” of citizens, ‘increased protection for journalists’, and the government’s commitment to a “wide and fully engaged democracy” — while failing to mention the assassination of an investigative journalist, as though the two were unconnected. Just as Dalli did at the European Parliament on Wednesday.

It’s hypocritical to talk about how ‘the future is female’ when this very same government is doing everything it can to wipe out the past, and the memory of a female journalist who was their greatest critic. Daphne Caruana Galizia was vilified and dehumanised by Muscat’s very own Labour Party before she was assassinated, and that organised campaign took on distinctly misogynistic tones.

But such deliberate blind spots don’t stop there.

The Prime Minister also seems to be suffering under the delusion that there is a strong bond between the government and civil society” in Malta. He told the UN General Assembly: “Our experience has taught us that empowering citizens and ensuring that they have a voice in addressing and resolving issues that concern them and impact on their lives, is an important part of Malta’s success in this field.”

Do you think he was referring to the way Tina Urso was targeted by Labour Party trolls after she raised her voice outside a Henley & Partner’s event in London to address the government’s sale of EU passports? Or the way Pia Zammit‘s photo of her as an actor in a play turned her into “a Nazi” in Labour-leaning newspaper It-Torċa?

Urso’s personal details, private photos and home address were shared in those secret groups by a Labour Party candidate who manages them, and where senior government people are members. Refusing to condemn Party-controlled hate groups certainly ‘empowers citizens’, but not in a way that should be encouraged.

But women weren’t the only issue on Muscat’s mind last week. He also used his time at the podium to drone on and on about how concerned his government was about children, referencing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and how “we should not only be reflecting on the milestones achieved in its implementation but more importantly on the areas that need to be addressed”.

It probably slipped his mind that his own government is facing infringement proceedings from the European Commission for its failure to adhere to three directives that provide protection for children who have been abused or have otherwise been victims of crime. Doing something about it might be a good place to start.

Finally, the Prime Minister lavished the highest praise of all on his government’s efforts to advance the rights of LGBTIQ people, singling out Malta’s “overall rating of 94% in the ILGA rainbow map” which ranks countries based on equality laws and policies passed. (Malta’s score was actually 90.3% — the Prime Minister’s optimism seems to have added a few points)

But of course he knows the ILGA-Europe rankings only look at paper laws passed in each country. And Malta’s laws look great on paper. When it comes to actually enforce laws, Malta gets failing grades across the board.

Muscat has always gotten away with fooling outsiders by pretending to be progressive and pretending to take action on the issues that are troubling Europe.

Using the LGBTIQ community to score points is just another example of this. The term for what he’s doing is “pinkwashing” — passing a law that extends rights to a minority group which are already completely uncontroversial in other Western democracies, and then patting himself on the back for how progressive, tolerant and modern he is.

The United Nations is a good place to do it because half the people listening to Muscat’s speech would have been asleep, and the other half was thinking about their next meal. There wouldn’t be any questions, either. No one would ask him why he was bragging about gender equality in Malta when a woman was assassinated for holding powerful men to account. Instead, he’ll get a nice press release out of all those big words.

But Muscat did get one thing right in his UN speech when he said, “Legislation alone does not guarantee societal change”.

All the pinkwashing in the world won’t hide the fact that this government dispatches its Cleansing Department every single night to remove all traces of the memorial to the woman who revealed the shady dealings of his regime and his closest associates. They targeted her with misogynistic abuse while she was alive, and they continue to vilify her now that she’s dead.

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