02 November 2011
Having a single commission to deal with issues of discrimination was a subject generating discussion yesterday, during a symposium on multiple discrimination, held by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE).
The commission cannot deal with the subject in its entirety but has remit on two grounds, basically, race and gender out of the six main discrimination areas.
NCPE recognises the importance of addressing the concept of multiple discrimination, which in a way, is a new concept and there has been little debate on it. It was for this reason, said NCPE executive director Romina Bartolo, that the commission came up with this symposium – the first covering all six grounds of discrimination.
Multiple discrimination occurs when a person is subjected to discrimination on more than one ground.
The NCPE has identified multiple discrimination as a concept that offers new insights into the experience of discrimination and that holds new potential for policies to combat discrimination. It is in fact, working to promote deeper understanding of this concept among academics and professionals with a view to stimulating a focus on multiple discrimination in national policy and organisational practice as part of its 'Think Equal' EU co-financed project.
The NCPE published an international call for proposals for the preparation of three papers for the symposium and three presentations on the selected papers were given. Academics, a number of NGOs, and representatives of equality organisations shared knowledge and made their comments on the issue.
Dr Bartolo said that Maltese law covers instances of discrimination on all grounds including employment, but it deals with them individually, not intersectionally. Because the NCPE has remit on only two grounds and its work is mostly related to the provision of goods and services, other complaints are passed on to the relevant authorities.
Seen individually, certain issues do not constitute discrimination but there may be a case of multiple discrimination when different factors are considered. Dr Bartolo however pointed out that no complaint on multiple discrimination has been filed with the NCPE since its inception in 2004.
Speaking of under-reporting, she emphasised that there are people who contact the commission just to have someone saying they are right but although assistance is provided, they would not want to lodge a formal complaint. She would really like to see more reporting taking place, for things to improve.
Joe Camilleri, chairperson of the KNPD, the national commission for disabled people, said that with the phenomenon of irregular migration, the commission did receive complaints of discrimination based on race and disability.
He expressed reservations against having a single equality commission because this has not worked in the UK in so far as disability is concerned.
He has been dreaming of a federation of different commissions lobbying for equality rather than a single commission, for all to have diverse areas of competences and refrain from losing the different identities of groups. Legal tools can then be developed for them to deal with issues and instances of multiple discrimination.
He also noted that in Malta, going to court often does not pay because the judiciary does not share the commission's visions of equality. This leads to a lack of case law.
Andrea Gibbin from the University of Malta understood concerns regarding a single commission because certain groups might be pushed to the back burner but said that it is more difficult to acquire funding for single entities. Financial assistance is at times not even considered on certain grounds like sexuality and belief. Certain grounds of discrimination are therefore not being covered.
Dr Neil Falzon said he really believes the different entities should all come together under the cap of a single commission.
Renee Laiviera from the National Confederation of Women's Organisations, said that in gender issues, NGOs have been working locally since the 60s if not the 40s, but awareness is low as even in this field, very few discrimination cases are filed with the NCPE. People are not conscious of discrimination grounds or decide not to see it, she said. The same can be said for disability.
Giving an example, she pointed out that the rate of employment of disabled women is way lower than that of disabled men.
In his introductory comments, parliamentary secretary Clyde Puli noted that a lot has been said on the concept of multiple discrimination but measures to address and redress such situations have not necessarily developed to an extent that provides protection to victims.