Guardian of the vulnerable
Maria Attard is from Gozo, Malta and is Director of a philanthropic organisation called Dar Guzeppa Debono. It is a centre which provides services tackling the immediate problems faced by unmarried pregnant teenagers, and later, mothers. Under her lead, the experts and professionals working at Dar Guzeppa Debono assess the circumstances of each pregnant teenager to help them acquire sustainable independence, avoid living on social benefits, and find their place in society. Also, it offers professional help to fathers, and their respective families. It is important to work with the fathers, even if teenage fathers, because “parenting as a role of both parents is still sometimes considered to be a woman’s mission and men tend to stay away”.
In the early seventies, the cultural and sociological make-up of society forbade the discussion of sexuality, pregnancy, relationships amongst young people - this was an area reserved for adults. Fully aware of this challenge herself, Maria Attard undertook additional qualifications to be able to support the young women who were being ostracised by society, for becoming pregnant outside marriage. Alongside them, she fought the existing gender norm according to which sexuality was forbidden and teenage pregnancy was only the fault of the girls. The respect for single mothers was missing. Them and their babies were marginalized and not given a chance to live normal lives any more.
With the formal support of the local church, Maria Attard set-up the centre to provide them a shelter. By starting up such a home, she has broken barriers. She has reduced the extreme sense of shame and societal stigma attached to being unmarried and pregnant, a positive contribution to more gender equality within the Gozitan society.
Protecting the rights and dignity of young women
Although retired teacher that worked in the field of education for over 37 years, she is still active amongst the teenagers from Dar Guzeppa Debono. Her presence in the school made her aware of certain basic needs, never addressed for young teenage girls. In response, Maria Attard organised national awareness campaigns on sexuality, on prevention of teenage pregnancies, and, domestic violence, together with schools, parishes and the media.