- Dr Anna Borg who is the Director of the Centre for Labour Studies at the University of Malta. She lectures and coordinates the Honours Degree Course in Work and Human Resources, and the Diploma in Social Sciences in respect to Gender, Work and Society offered by the Centre for Labour Studies. She conducts research for the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, and for several years she also acted as a researcher for the European Social Policy Network.
- Inspector Sylvana Gafa' set up a Victim Support Unit with the Malta Police Force. This unit assists victims of crimes through their needs and concerns and provides victims with counselling services amongst other services. Inspector Gafa has a BA (Hons) degree in Criminology and a Masters degree in counselling.
- Mr Patrick Psaila is a registered psychologist and training consultant with over 22 years of experience. Patrick works with various large and medium sized organisations working as a training consultant, coach and psychologist. His area of specialisation is in personal and professional development for managers and leaders, with a particular interest in Emotional Intelligence and Leadership. He is the founder and co-director of PsyPotential Ltd.
- Her Excellency Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was the ninth and youngest President of Malta. She served in politics for 40 years being the very first and still the only elected General Secretary of the then, Malta Labour Party and also the youngest at 21 years. She also served at the Council of Europe as Member of the General Assembly. She serviced in Parliament for 16 years and was the Minister for the Family & Social Solidarity. Internationally, Her Excellency serves as the President of EuroChild, U-NIDO Goodwill Ambassador for Equality, Member of the Council of World Women Leaders among many other appointments. She also Chairs: The Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society; The Malta Trust Foundation and The Emanuele Cancer Research Foundation.
This webinar was part of the online event “Shaping Malta’s Future: The New Norm” held in July 2020. The panel for this topic, “Preserving the resilience of the Maltese society”, tackled the impact of Covid-19 on the different facets of the Maltese society. The panellists focused on the mental state of individuals during Covid-19, the increased inequalities faced by women during the pandemic, the impact of the school closure on children, the mental health of vulnerable people with the ‘stay at home’ advice given by health authorities and the effect of ‘working from home’ and other social distancing measures on victims of domestic violence.
The effect of Covid-19 on mental health
Patrick Psaila opened the discussion by describing the different reactions experienced by the public during this pandemic. He stated that “isolation is not only counter-intuitive but also counter-evolutionary” since social contact is necessary for both physical and mental health. An element of fear and anxiety has overwhelmed society with respect to financial, career and health concerns. Additionally, the increased isolation due to social distancing measures brought about significant mental distress. Mr. Psaila emphasised the fact that the term “social distancing” implies that individuals should be emotionally distant from one another, while in practice only “physical distancing” was necessary, hence the latter term should have been used.
The most vulnerable within society
Dr Anna Borg discussed the toll on the vulnerable groups within the Maltese society brought about by Covid-19, especially low-income families, patients who were facing treatment or medication, and migrants who were already at a disadvantageous state pre-pandemic. She stated that “the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and moved more people into poverty”.
From the Victim Support Unit within the Malta Police Force, Inspector Gafa’ emphasised their role of providing the necessary tools to domestic violence victims, who are considered to be a vulnerable cohort within society. Irrespective of the pandemic, the average number of cases remained constant at 110 cases per month. Despite these statistics, Inspector Gafa’ assumed that this figure is under-estimated since many victims are reluctant to report their abuser. Nonetheless, individuals were encouraged to make a report online or through a phone call, while maintaining their privacy, and were also given the possibility to go physically to a police station.
With reference to an OECD report published in May 2020, Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca stated that the increased digitalisation mitigated the educational loss caused by school closures. Since Her Excellency holds the position of Chair of the Malta Trust Foundation, she provided relevant insight concerning the wellbeing of children, for example, the fact that counselling services were on the rise, and that a substantial number of students felt uncomfortable revealing their home environment on screen. She also sustained that social confinement amongst children led to poor nutrition and a lack of morale. Moreover, as the President of Eurochild, she discussed the current campaign which aims to allocate 5% of the European social contract to address child poverty.
Her Excellency has also mentioned the mental health of vulnerable people who were asked to stay home during the pandemic and the loneliness that they experienced.
The effect of Covid-19 on men vs. women
Dr Anna Borg communicated the challenges felt by parents in trying to maintain their working productivity levels during the pandemic, whereby children were forced to remain at home and engage in home schooling and online learning. Studies have shown that the ‘burden’ and the sole responsibility of the children was largely shifted on to the mothers, negatively impeding their careers, ability to focus, the time dedicated to work, motivation, as well as emotional isolation from their peers. Conversely, Her Excellency, President Emeritus Coleiro Preca discussed the aspect of home schooling from the child’s perspective. She argued that many children suffered from a “digital divide” and therefore did not have access to the adequate technological means to cater for their online education. She claimed that “many students have vanished from the radar”.
It is commonly known that women suffered greater inequalities with regards to several aspects of life. Inspector Gafa’ shed light on the issue of inequality with regards to criminal offences and domestic violence. She argued that on average, women suffer greater forms of inequality and more female domestic abuse cases have been reported over time. Furthermore, according to Dr Anna Borg, poverty is not gender neutral and we are currently witnessing a phenomenon known as the “feminisation of poverty”. This originates from one of the following three aspects:
- Vision of work: women generally are the primary care giver which often requires them to work on a part-time basis, making them more susceptible to redundancy. Evidence from NSO unemployment statistics further prove that the female unemployment rate is higher than that of males;
- Inequalities with respect to resources: women have less access to capital, property, and other forms of resources; and
- Unequal access to power: women have less control over social, legal and cultural factors.
Overall, Mr. Patrick Psaila concurred with the views of gender inequality put forward by Inspector Gafa` and Dr Anna Borg. He argued that the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic aggravated the gender gap. Henceforth, Mr. Psalia challenges the ‘typical male’ mind frame and seeks to look at the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to encourage fairer policies at all levels, without fearing the equalisation of power.
He encouraged business entities to increase awareness towards corporate holistic wellbeing amongst its employees. He concluded that in the light of a potential second wave, a solid routine should be maintained, while boosting that ‘feel-good factor’ through a healthy diet, frequent exercise and by minimising stressful emotions. Mrs. Coleiro Preca highlighted the need for increased local scientific research as well as greater investment to address the gaps which were highlighted during this webinar. Inspector Gafa’ concluded by appealing to victims to speak up. She also provided the necessary contact information: emergency number (112), victim support number (2294-2160), and email address firstname.lastname@example.org.