Thursday, 29 March 2012

Times: Equality commission given a wider remit
Thursday, March 8, 2012 by Fiona Galea Debono

Discrimination on grounds of age can soon be handled by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality.
Discrimination on grounds of age can soon be handled by the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality.

The remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality is being extended to include issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, age and religion apart from fighting against discrimination between men and women and on the grounds of race.

Equality between men and women has registered major advances

The idea is that it would have the responsibility to work against every form of discrimination and not just safeguard equality between the sexes.

Justice Minister Chris Said explained that amendments to the Equality Act had been approved by Cabinet and would be discussed in Parliament in line with the government’s aim to remove every sort of discrimination.

The Equality for Men and Women Act already protects against discrimination between men and women at work, in education and banks and financial institutions.

An EU directive, which has to be introduced by August, would also protect not just the interests of the self-employed but also of their spouses, Dr Said noted yesterday. The NCPE would be responsible for safeguarding this principle of equality.

He also said he would address the rise in the NCPE workload as a result of the added responsibility.

To date, the NCPE works to ensure Maltese society is free from discrimination based on gender and family responsibilities in employment, and on race and gender in the provision of goods and services.

Once the amendments are passed in Parliament, the NCPE can start receiving complaints on grounds of sexual orientation, religion and age. Disability remains the remit of the National Commission for Persons with Disability.

When it receives a complaint, the NCPE investigates it to determine whether it is a case of discrimination and then takes the action it deems fit.

The move follows the inclusion of sexual orientation in the legal definition of a hate crime through an amendment presented in Parliament, whereby anyone found guilty of committing a crime motivated by homophobia would face a harsher punishment.

On a visit to the offices of the NCPE on the eve of International Women’s Day, Dr Said pointed out that equality between men and women had registered major advances.

Suffice it to say that six out of 10 University students were female and, over the last three years, the number of women in the labour market had risen by about 6,000.

About 20 per cent of the candidates at Saturday’s local council elections were women, Dr Said pointed out, adding it was important to continue insisting on more women in public life, traditionally considered a man’s domain.

Nevertheless, such improvements were not enough and more initiatives were required to encourage women to enter the working world, Dr Said insisted, listing the family-friendly measures the government has introduced and incentives to attract females to employment.

The idea was that the private sector, which was starting to see the two-way benefits of such measures, would follow suit.

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