Women’s NGOs are not rolling in government funds

When women’s organizations in Malta mobilized a protest to raise awareness of domestic violence, they were accused of hypocrisy by the head of welfare services.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Women’s NGOs are not rolling in government funds - NewsMavens
Pocket change, PixaBay

WHAT'S THE CLAIM?

Lourdes Agius was a woman from Malta who was strangled to death by her partner. She was the fourth victim of domestic violence in Malta in just three months (and let’s not forget the trivializing tone in which newspapers routinely report on gender-based violence). After her murder, the Women’s Rights Foundation (WRF) organized a demonstration in Valletta, on September 22, 2018, demanding that the government put more resources into fighting domestic violence. Alfred Grixti, CEO of Malta’s Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS), responded with this statement given to the Maltese weekly it-Torca on September 23, 2018:

“They released a press statement saying that the government has to increase resources, and this is when these same NGOs are benefiting from financial aid provided directly by the government, which allows them to operate.

In fact, this year, the majority of NGOs that signed the petition and protested in Valletta yesterday split between them a budget of 10 million. It is equivalent to 64% of the budget of FSWS!”  

Were it true, Grixti’s statement would actually be good news for NGOs. But the WRF has publicly refuted the claim that they’ve received any such funds. Their statements were reported in Maltese media (e.g. Malta Today) in a “he said, she said” manner as if they were simply opinions and not factual claims.

Arguably, it is not the fight against domestic violence and not even the funding issue that was at the core of the official’s decision to make this statement. Rather, it is disagreement with WRF regarding abortion -- an issue that did not prevent, to Grixti’s distaste, religious women’s organisations from joining hands with the WRF at the protest. He has questioned the true intentions of the WRF in their fight against domestic violence because the NGO had earlier published a position paper on relaxing the strict ban on abortion in Malta. Grixti said:  

"As a national agency we cannot be shoulder to shoulder with [someone] who is in favor of abortion.

In his view (part of the statement published online), NGOs are taking the easy way out -- protesting and petitioning -- while being funded on a level almost on par with that of his agency.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

We contacted Grixti, asking for clarification of which funds for NGOs and which budget of the agency he was referring to. Despite promising to send a clarification, he has ignored our repeated requests for comment.

We took a look into both the budget of FSWS and NGOs public funding, to establish the facts of the matter.

FSWS financing

The FSWS team is responsible for immediate assistance to domestic violence victims, drawing up a safety plan, carrying out risk assessments, and accompanying them to court. In 2017, it worked with 940 individuals in 971 cases of domestic violence.

According to the foundation’s last annual report, the foundation’s budget was €10.7 million. Of all the funds, 81% was spent on payroll, i.e. social worker and staff salaries. Along with funding for a recently separated agency and an additional government fund entrusted to FSWS to manage, its total budget amounts to €14,830,000 (see Table 60 in the report).

This €14.8 million is probably the “budget” figure referred to by Grixti in the quote above (if €10 million constitutes 64%, 100% would be €15.63 million).

NGOs financing

In Malta, there are two main ways for NGOs to be funded by the government to provide services to the community, including those affected by domestic violence (we will not consider EU funds at this time). NGOs working in the field of domestic violence, including shelters, are listed here. Funding sources for NGOs are listed here.

One of the ways to get funds is competitive project funding, in which NGOs active in various fields compete in open calls with their project ideas. The main providers of these funds are:

The Voluntary Organizations Project Scheme (VOPS), distributed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector and managed by the Ministry for Education and Employment; and The Malta Community Chest Fund (MCCF), Malta’s largest charity foundation chaired by the President of Malta, whose funds in 2017 were composed of donations and government reimbursements.

In 2017, the monies disbursed by these funds amounted to €1.3 million -- less than 10% of the FSWS budget. This fact alone counters Grixti’s claim. But in the interest of complete accuracy, let’s look at how the funds were distributed:

VOPS (allocated funds of €700,000)

- In 2017, none of the mentioned women’s organizations received these funds (grantees are listed here). The Platform of Human Rights Organizations in Malta (PHROM), which has been vocal on domestic violence, received around €8,000, but not on that topic.

- St. Jeanne Antide Foundation, a religious charity which runs a support group for domestic violence survivors, received €20,000. Its annual report states that the funds were used for prevention of domestic violence training, reaching nearly 2,000 people. In 2016, the charity also received €60,000 for “A package of Outreach Services for Social Inclusion and Wellbeing” (together with Men Against Violence, it developed a prevention program against domestic violence). This charity also received the President’s Award for Creativity in 2016 and 2017 for its services to domestic violence survivors. The total disbursement by the President’s Awards was €100,000 to 11 projects in 2017 and €65,000 in 2016 to 10 projects. A single organization can only receive up to €6,000.

- In 2018, the only women’s associations receiving these grants were the Malta Association of Women in Business (€12,000) and the Migrant Women Association Malta (€15,000). All 2018 grantees are listed here and here.  

- The Small Initiatives Support Scheme is also managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector. In 2016, no women’s rights organizations received funding. In 2017, the Women’s Rights Foundation received a grant of €2,850 for a domestic violence handbook. In 2018, the NGO’s project on consent culture was rejected.

MCCF (€500,000 allocated for 2017)

- In 2017, the Supervisory Council distributed grants to 18 voluntary organizations, averaging €27,000 per NGO. Individual grant sums are not published, but lists of grantees are provided in the annual report.

- Among the grantees in 2017 were two religious organizations -- St Jeanne Antide Foundation and Ġużeppa Debono, an association with openly anti-abortion views, which provides services for single parents. The Platform of Human Rights Organizations in Malta (PHROM) also received this funding.

- In 2016, the National Council of Women (NCW), an organization active in various women-related policy issues, including advocacy against domestic violence, was one of the grantees. The projects of the PHROM and NCW were not about domestic violence.

- In 2016, Men Against Violence and Women’s Rights Foundation received joint funding to work on sexual harassment prevention (€25,000, according to the media; although Men Against Violence told NewsMavens that the grant was €20,000 for two years).

According to all available data, the amount of public funds received by NGOs who deal with domestic violence is nowhere close to FSWS funding. The overall amount spent on such projects over the past three years was about €95,000, plus the undisclosed MCCF grants -- the latter is not a government fund. That is ten times less than what Grixti claims they received in just one year. The only other NGO “budget” item could have been the public-social partnership budget line from the Ministry for Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity, which is indeed €10 million. But only a small part of it was outsourced to a domestic violence shelter, Dar Merhba Bik (€342,370 for three years from 2016). Furthermore, it is not a “fund” for NGOs -- rather, it is a payment for outsourcing services to an NGO. The ministry has not responded to our request for detailed figures of public-social partnerships.

Moreover, the Women’s Rights Foundation has only received between €22,850 and €27,850 of government funding in the past two years -- and that was in partnership with another organization. The NGO’s lawyers represent domestic violence victims in court (example).

This inaccurate claim has merely served as a weapon in the attack on WRF, whose religious allies in the fight against domestic violence, like "Ejjew Għandi" (the social services arm of the church), are also being criticized by Grixti and other conservative critics.

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg, representatives of smaller opposition parties and various other prominent persons attended the march anyway. This gathering at the protest could have been a moment of powerful mobilization against Malta's meek punishments, frequent cases of suspects being released on bail even when reoffending, and authorities’ inaction. Lourdes Agius, whose murder sparked the protests, had repeatedly reported her partner to the police for domestic abuse. Sadly, however, public officials chose to brush this opportunity aside simply because they refuse to ally with pro-choice NGOs.

CONCLUSION

Overall, we rate this high-ranking official’s false claim as an attempt to spin criticism of the authorities (not even his agency, but mainly the police and courts) by using a misleading claim to undercut the credibility of organizations who were protesting against domestic violence in Malta. Additionally, the case of an official depicting those advocating for exceptions to the abortion ban as “siding with domestic violence”, we rate as an example of trivializing violence against women.

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