Doctors for Choice
Europride 2023: The good, the bad, and the ugly about Malta
Updated: Apr 16
Europride 2023 will take place in Valletta between 7 and 17 September, and today saw the launch of the official trailer for the event. It promises to be a celebration of love and diversity, and there is no doubt it will be a much more upbeat event than the tense scenes in Belgrade last year.
Malta has made strides in its civil rights record over the last decade. From a country that did not even allow divorce of marriage, it went to one that enacted civil unions and the right to adopt for same-sex couples, followed in a few years by equal marriage. It also adopted progressive legislation on gender identity, expression and sex characteristics, including legal gender recognition and banning of non-consensual medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children. These advances have rightly earned Malta a top spot in the Rainbow Europe Map and Index. However, some major issues remain that tarnish Malta's image as a civil rights champion.
Government funding of anti-gender and anti-LGBT rights organisations
The government of Malta, in an attempt to appease conservative factions of its voter base and party members, continues to fund anti-gender organisations including LifeNetwork Foundation which is affiliated with the ultra-conservative Agenda Europe. The government has openly granted this organisation EUR 130,000 to allow them to "prevent abortion" through biased counselling. LifeNetwork has also been at the forefront of fighting against equal marriage and expansion of IVF services for LGBT couples. It has also joined the outcry against the Equality Bill in the last legislature, and it has been successful in completely stalling the progress of the Bill until parliament was dissolved for the following election.
No progress on equality legislation
In the last legislature, a lot of time and effort was dedicated by pro-human rights NGOs to advocate for the Equality Bill as it made its way through parliament. It was meant to be an important piece of legislation that elevated protections for minorities including the LGBT community. However, when faced with backlash from segments of society that wish to continue discriminating against minorities, the Labour government inexplicably ditched the Bill and it ceased to exist when parliament was dissolved for the next election. This means all the work put in by pro-human rights NGOs was in vain. The only glimmer of hope is that the government has indicated it may present a new Equality Bill in some form at some point in the future, although this is likely to be a watered-down version.
Abysmal reproductive rights record
Malta may score highly on the Rainbow Europe Index, but it scores nothing short of zero points and is dead last (tied with Andorra) in the Abortion Policies Atlas. Malta has a complete ban on abortion, with no provisions to save a pregnant person's life or for cases of pregnancies resulting from sexual crime. Progress on a Bill to introduce a very narrow exception to allow terminations to preserve life seems to have stalled as the government once again shows signs of succumbing to conservative backlash.
Malta is still a country that prosecutes people who terminate their own pregnancy, and this makes its law and policy worse than that of Poland, since Poland has no criminal sanctions against a pregnant person who terminates their own pregnancy.
Malta also scores poorly on the contraception policy atlas, with the government offering no subsidies or reimbursements on contraception, even though this was a policy promise in its latest electoral programme.
Although Malta has made notable and commendable strides in civil rights, there are still glaring issues that tarnish its record, and it will be good for the country to reflect upon these as it hosts the Europride celebration this year.