Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Times: Widespread ignorance of anti-discrimination legislation
Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 14:40

Two separate studies of discrimination in Malta have revealed widespread ignorance of anti-discrimination legislation and significant victim discomfort in reporting incidences of discrimination.

The survey findings were presented this morning at an NCPE conference concluding its "Think Equal" project.

According to the findings of a qualitative survey of racial discrimination in Malta, 70 per cent of respondents had never heard of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality or the Director of Industrial and Economic Relations.

Over 40 per cent of those surveyed had experienced unfavourable treatment while buying goods or services, with respondents saying people often moved away from them or even threw them out of shops. One respondent of African origin described going into a shop to buy a shirt and being told by the shop assistant that he wouldn't be able to afford the shirt.

The author of the study, social scientist and university lecturer Marceline Naudi, said that a number of respondents had experienced discriminatory language or behaviour by those closest to them.

"This form of racism is extremely insidious, because it occurs within an individual's so-called 'safe space'. When you experience discrimination within this space, you effectively have no safe space," Dr Naudi explained.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals also described various incidents of discrimination in the findings of a qualitative study presented by Gabi Calleja.

60 per cent of respondents had experienced discrimination at the workplace. While almost two-thirds knew that the law protected them from discrimination at the workplace, less than half were aware that this protection did not extend to other areas.

The blanket ban on gay men donating blood was the most frequently-referred to form of discrimination.

Although over half the respondents were aware of the existence of the NCPE, there was confusion as to what its function was.

Lead researcher Gabi Calleja quoted several respondents' examples of LGBT discrimination. In one incident, a gay couple were made to leave a restaurant because of jeers from other patrons. In another, a gay man complained because hospital authorities would not acknowledge his long-term partner as his next-of-kin.

The study calls for the government to replace existing equality legislation with a broader Equality Act that would align the levels of protection offered to different groups of people, including LGBT people.

It also suggests that the NCPE be transformed into a broader equality body which would be able to ensure and protect equality on the grounds of sexual orientation.

A third study, conducted by Suzanne Gatt, surveyed 150 public sector employees to see whether they experienced any forms of discrimination.

While most of the respondents had not experienced discrimination themselves, they reported having witnessed incidents of discrimination related to ethnicity or sexual orientation.

According to the survey, women tended to have stronger anti-discrimination attitudes than men, Dr Gatt explained. Respondents in managerial roles were also more consistently knowledgeable about discrimination than those in non-managerial positions.

The NCPE will be publishing a 60-page discrimination-related booklet in both Maltese and English over the coming weeks. The booklet is the result of an analysis of local bodies and organisations which provide discrimination-related services carried out by lawyers Neil Falzon and Adrian Mallia.

48 such organisations were identified, with all forms of discrimination – racial, disability, religious, sexual orientation, age and gender – covered.

The booklet, which contains a series of straightforward and concrete frequently asked questions concerning discrimination, will serve as a "bridge" between victims of discrimination and the organisations they can contact, Dr Falzon said.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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