22nd Mar 2018


Malta breaks EU taboo on trans-gender rights

  • Some people in Malta, a conservative country, thought the bill was an April Fool's prank (Photo:

A scurrilous rumour recently swept Malta: the Maltese parliament would unanimously vote for the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Bill (GIGESC) to become law on 1 April.

People thought it was an April fool’s prank

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The disbelief didn't come as a surprise. Malta is still considered by some as a conservative, Catholic country where change is slow.

Thankfully, things are changing. Malta is now the first country in the world to criminalise unconsented interventions on intersex infants, and the third to allow trans people to determine their gender without any invasive medical interventions or certification.

This means that from now on, trans, genderqueer and intersex people in Malta can benefit from the full set of legal protections introduced through this act.

Along with this, there is now in place a quick and transparent procedure for change of gender and name on official documents.

During this bill’s formulation, it was ensured that the adopted act meets current human rights standards, and takes the demands of the trans and intersex community fully into account.

We wanted to guarantee that trans and genderqueer people no longer suffer from negative legal requirements, such as divorce and sterilisation, prior to their recognition by law.

We also wanted to make sure that intersex infants are not subjected to unnecessary medical or surgical treatment so as to be registered as boys or girls at birth.

To meet this goal, this law was formulated in a mainstream manner and introduced two new universal rights in the Maltese legal system: a right to gender identity for all individuals, regardless of whether they are cisgender or transgender; a right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy, regardless of whether they are identified as male, female or intersex at birth.

With regard to the right to gender identity, the law empowers all adults and minors to rectify the gender and name on official documents as necessary.

This, while ensuring that such a change does not carry any negative repercussions to the individual, be it in terms of marital or family status, property or any other.

The law also empowers parents to postpone the entry of the sex marker on their children’s birth certificate until the gender identity is known.

Furthermore, the process introduced by the law is fully depathologised. We are therefore ensuring a clear separation between legal recognition procedures and any medical or surgical interventions that individuals may wish to undergo in order to align their body with their gender identity.

The right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy outlaws any involuntary or coerced surgical intervention which is driven by social factors on the sex characteristics of minors.

As the minister who presented this law, I am very pleased that it passed through the parliamentary process without any sensationalism or doomsday scenarios that were employed in the past to hinder progress on civil rights.

Instead, this Bill enjoyed constructive feedback during a public consultation and a healthy discussion throughout the parliamentary process.

Why now?

While flipping through the various international articles commending this Act, I invariably came across the questions: Why Malta? What inspired this sudden change?

I was not surprised, given the country’s previously uninspiring record on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer rights.

The recent progress that is being registered in the country in terms of LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning) rights is not happening by accident.

The programme of the current administration, which took office two years ago, pledges to open society, celebrate diversity, ensure equality and respect towards minority groups and, above all, safeguard the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all.

As part of this democratisation process, an LGBTIQ Consultative Council was set up by government.

It comprises representatives of LGBTIQ community organisations who are empowered to discuss and advance legislative and policy proposals to government.

For instance, the Council contributed significantly to the formulation of both the Civil Unions Act, that provided same-sex couples with equal recognition to different-sex couples, and the GIGESC Act discussed above.

It is indeed, this partnership between government and LGBTIQ civil society that has provided us with the opportunity to act systematically in our quest for equality for all.

Many people may not know how to locate Malta, but I believe that we may serve to inspire other governments in this particular area of policy.

Amnesty International estimates that in Europe alone, there are around 1.5 million transgender people - 1.5 million people who can live better lives if more governments legislate in this direction.

Helena Dalli is minister for social dialogue, consumer affairs and civil liberties in Malta


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