malta: focus on caroline gatt
This small but diverse island south of Italy, surrounded by the the Mediterranean Sea, is rich in natural beauty. Its beautiful fortified towns, stunning beaches and abundant wildlife means it's appreciated by locals and tourists alike.
“I love walking along the cliffs”, Caroline says. “We have a very specific natural phenomenon which we call Rdum, consisting of coral rocks over blue clay. Culturally we are primarily European, but, due to its closeness to Libya and Tunisia, a bit of Africa resounds in everything, especially in the language and the landscape.”
“Since childhood I was encouraged by my parents and teachers to ask questions about the things I saw, to take an interest in politics, archaeology, palaeontology, culture and history, to watch documentaries and go hiking in the countryside.”
At an early age, Caroline became politically active:
“At school, and later in university, I participated in student politics. I was interested in participatory democracy, bottom-up leadership and the connections between people and their environment. During my anthropology studies my supervisor encouraged me to do an internship at the WWF-affiliated Nature Trust Malta.”
Caroline joined Friends of the Earth Malta working on a community education project. She is now a board member.
Besides her job she is working on a doctoral research in anthropology and is very active in the local community.
“Although they are islanders, Maltese people travel considerably, participate in international politics and are generally well informed. However, most people are not very critical thinkers. Social scientists argue that due to the strict loyalty demanded by traditional institutions, such as the church, political parties and the family, the Maltese have become accustomed to conform themselves to authority. Therefore, only a few subcultures exist in Malta and a fear for change dominates. The lack of entrepreneurship and creative energy is something I would like to change.”
Local versus national issues
“Malta is a modern country, but only very few women occupy high positions. Family relations are very tight in Malta. Women are still mainly associated with domestic chores and caretaking”, says Caroline.
“During my anthropological research in small communities I have seen that women are often very active in community politics and activities, but when it comes to issues on a national and international scale the women leave the task to their husbands. The community is possibly regarded as the extended home. Anthropologists have suggested that due to Malta’s long history of colonialism, Maltese people do not identify with the entire Maltese territory as their homeland, and nationalism is not common. Environmental organisations are tapping into this potential and are identifying local ecosystems, species and urban environments as being specifically ‘Maltese’. Increasingly, women are becoming interested in the environment, while in the past environmentalism was a man’s domain.”
Dedication and inspiration
“I am motivated by a number of things. My Catholic background and the journeys I made through nature reserves in the area have given me a great moral respect for the world. A world that includes people as well as animals, plants, landscapes, oceans, and magical things we cannot even begin to imagine or understand. I believe that the environmental tragedy that we are bringing onto ourselves is far from unavoidable. People possess an infinite creativity and I am strongly motivated by the fact that all that is needed in order to make it blossom is the right context, the right freedom, and the right regulations. Then that creativity will help us achieve a more sustainable lifestyle.”