Monday, 18 January 2010

Independent: Tradition, values and the evolution of habitation
17.1.10? by David Carabott

Maltese society is changing at a fast rate, and it is not always easy for those who believe in the traditional, nuclear family, to accept or understand the changes. David Carabott takes a deeper look into these changes and their implications.

Maltese society is changing at a fast rate, and it is not always easy for those who believe in the traditional, nuclear family, to accept or understand the changes. David Carabott takes a deeper look into these changes and their implications

During my time as a student it was always purported that the Maltese islands are a complex and heterogeneous society, a description about which I remain truly sceptical.

Since I was a teenager, I have witnessed an increase in the evolution of the family structure, from the conventional or traditional family to “new” family structures. It is the latter that are gradually changing the status quo of tradition. It is this tradition that Diderot believed was dangerous to freedom; he thought that in order to enhance human freedoms in society, society needed to be open and tolerant of each individual’s chosen route to happiness. This happiness, according to Diderot, would defend society against tyrannical authorities who sought to infringe upon society’s right to revolution in the face of social oppression.

The tradition of the “traditional” family has changed dramatically over the years, and single parents are becoming more common, separated couples are becoming a part of the norm. Tradition, still at the core of the Maltese community, depicts separation and single parenthood as taboo. The model of the nuclear (traditional) family has been adjusted, amended and reconstructed to respond to real life issues, personal freedoms and personal responsibilities and as a result has become antiquated for our rights-driven world where choice is central. As proven through sociological theory, families become fragmented mainly due to distance, but Malta is small, and, therefore, it allows our society to remain closely knit.

Then, there is the middle class family, which struggles to make ends meet. Karl Marx once said that the middle class is diminishing and is drawing closer to the working class. Now, the middle class is not falling into the working classes, but the upper middle is moving to become the new lower middle class. The lower middle may just be an adjusted lower middle class or maybe the working poor, but it will be a temporary shift, different from Marx, who saw it as more systematic.

Changes to the traditional family, and introduction of new norms have also produced a “younger” generation that is more secular. Certainly, they are apathetic to politics because of the rejection of many of the traditionalist arguments, which they do not see as relevant.

Women’s role in society is still marginal and out of step with the rest of Western Europe. They remain sidelined in society, but for how much longer? Statistics are clearly showing that the majority of University students are female, but this will be arbitrary unless they receive the opportunities required for a future of parity.

Single parent families have been increasing with each passing year. Single parent families can be attributed either to marital breakdowns or births outside marriage. Alternatively, there are those individuals who become a single-parent family through choice either by adopting or fostering a child.

In the last decades we have seen a considerable increase in the number of people opting for a civil marriage. This has also changed the social landscape. Those who opt to cohabitate or those who prefer “to tie the knot” through civil means instead of the usual religious matrimony are not being considered “sinners” any longer. It’s true that people are coming to terms with this, but what about the government’s allowances towards cohabitating couples and their eventual offspring?

Some of the main reasons for the increase in cohabitation in the Maltese islands are: couples are opting to live together rather than getting married for several reasons such as financial burden, while others have no other choice but to cohabitate as divorce does not yet exist in Malta, one of two countries without some type of divorce recognition. Moreover until the 1970s homosexual acts were still considered a crime and in this day and age same-sex partnerships are still not recognised by the law.

An interesting fact about marriages in Malta is that, in the 1980s, many Maltese women were marrying North Africans. Some of these men became engaged and married to Maltese women just for the sake of obtaining a Maltese (European) passport. To control the situation, the government of Malta introduced a clause that a passport or an identity card issued to a foreign person married to another of Maltese nationality should be given only after five years of marriage. Since many countries in Europe/world have this same stipulation, should we be asking whether this five-year wait is wrong and is depriving people of their human rights?

Eventually bureaucracy treats both right and wrong the same way, and policies do not differentiate between one person and another. “Mal-hazin jehel it-tajjeb” (“everyone ends up in the same boat”) we say in Maltese!

When Malta is compared to other European countries, it is still way behind in its recognition of different families. The authorities have not yet acknowledged some of the “other” types of families that now exist in the modern social landscape.

Change in Malta comes slowly and, as a consequence, many people suffer from discrimination or are not tolerated because they are considered “different” or “deviant”. This is not the appropriate way to “behave” in a democratic society. Because of these attitudes towards those who we perceive to be different, frustration and apprehension are felt and seen among many levels of Maltese society.

I consider myself a liberal person and personally cannot agree with the majority of the population. On the other hand I can understand that everyone is free to have an opinion, it’s the people who elect politicians, and politicians carry out their will. How many political parties would have the guts to be elected and introduce these changes? Probably zero.

Nowadays, families are growing at a much smaller pace than ever before. Women are no longer dependant on men to keep running a family. Same-sex couples in the Western countries are gradually being accepted by law, people of different races are marrying each other, and single parents are becoming the norm. Gradually and slowly, social cohesion (different people living together) is occurring in Malta. All of these types of families make us more diverse and is the stepping-stone for humanity’s future. Even though it is true there is diversity, most people are not aware of it, or they try to avoid it through denial.

I think it is still very early to call the Maltese society a diverse one; we have to accept that others are also a part of it instead of discriminating against migrants and other foreigners residing in Malta.

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