The Republic of Malta can hardly be called one of the biggest players on the world stage. A tiny archipelago of islands in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, it has a land mass of 122 square miles and a population of a mere 450,000. HIstorically it has always been an important port of strategic importance, and a crossroads of civilisations. The Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Habsburg Spanish, the Knights of Saint John Hospitalier, French and the British Empire all ruled it in turn, before it became independent in 1964, and a republic in 1974, Since Saint Paul (allegedly) was shipwrecked on the islands, it has been an important centre for Christianity. A stronghold for Crusaders, it was the Knights of St John who gave us the Maltese Cross. To this day the island republic remains fiercely and fanatically Roman Catholic.
So, one may think with such a long history of religion, and staunch adherence and blind loyalty of the population to the diktats of Rome, that Malta would be strongly against the rights of the individual to determine their own gender. And you would be wrong. In a move which completely surprised me, on Wednesday 1 April 2015, the Maltese Parliament voted to ban surgery on intersex babies (i.e. babies born with organs of both biological genders).
In passing the new law, the Maltese Parliament is determined that the identity of a child as male or female must lie with each individual themselves as the grow, and shall now work with medical professionals to ensure that the rights of intersex children are protected. They also seek to ensure that any surgery which may take place is wholly and not “driven by social factors without the consent of the minor”.
This new law also contains protection for trans and intersex people and is being hailed as some of the most progressive in the world.
“I am very proud to be from a country that has from now on the most comprehensive and respectful laws when it comes to the rights of trans and intersex people.” said Maltese Member of the European Parliament, Miriam Dalli, “No one should be declared mentally ill, undergo forced surgery or being forced to go through a divorce, in order to be recognised as who they truly are. I sincerely hope that the whole of Europe will follow Malta’s example, and that such degrading practices will be issues of the past.”
I couldn’t agree more. Malta has not only led Europe and the world in one of the most progressive steps in protecting gender identity ever, but they put the rest of the world to shame. They have proven that size and prestige really does not matter. You don’t have to be the biggest or most powerful on the world stage to be the most progressive, or to take a very brave stand against the powerful, i.e. Rome, who would frown upon your acts. A small voice is sometimes the most effective.
Arja Voipio, co-chair of Transgender Europe, stated, “Lawmakers in the rest of Europe should take inspiration from this trail-blazer for swift action.”
Indeed they should. And I in particular look to my own little Scotland to follow their lead. Now that Scotland has hate crime laws and some of the most progressive equal marriage laws in the world, it is time for intersex children to have legal protection.