/epale/en/file/epale-gendered-literacy-0EPALE gendered literacy
Maria Pisani, The National Library of Malta, Valletta
Maria Pisani is an academic, activist and the mother of four children. She has a PhD in Adult Education from the University of Malta and lectures within the same University in the Department of Youth and Community Studies. As an activist, she is the co-founder and director of Integra Foundation, working with migrants and refugees in Malta. In this interview she speaks to Mahira Mifsud about her vision for inclusive education and the beauty of witnessing transformation in adult learners.
Tell us something original about you!
I’m certainly not the only woman to have done this, but perhaps at the time it was not the ‘norm’… I left school at 16, and decided to continue my education after I started my family, so for my 12 years as a university student, I was also working and bringing up four young children. I really can’t think of anything original about me!
You are a successful career person, mother and activist in the community. How did you manage to achieve all this and what is your definition of a ‘successful person’?
I don’t see myself as a successful career person per se. But everything I managed to achieve was thanks to lots of support from my children, my parents, my partner, my friends and my colleagues. That, and determination, sacrifice, and my commitment towards social justice. I think it’s very difficult to say ‘this is what success looks like’… for me, a successful woman is a woman who is at peace with her decisions, choices and of course mistakes (we all make mistakes and hopefully learn from them) in different aspects of her life – from intimate relationships, to family, work (in or outside the home), education, lifestyle and so on.
Which role models have inspired you?
I have met so many inspirational women in different contexts and at different times of my life. I am, and have always been, surrounded by amazing women quietly getting on and doing amazing things: my daughters, my mum, my friends, my colleagues, women I meet through my work - different women who inspire me in different ways.
What is your definition of the term ‘feminist’? Is it applicable today?
Yes, I think it’s very applicable today, and I embrace the term. Today we refer to feminisms: there are different interpretations of what it refers to. At a basic level, my interpretation of being a feminist is any person who calls for gender equity across all domains of life, be it, economic, in the domestic domain, employment, sexual, social and so on.
I would also argue that gender alone does not define a human being, which means I also look at how gender intersects with, for example, age, race and ethnicity, dis/ability, social class and so on. Feminism is intrinsically political, hence it looks at gendered power relationships and structural obstacles - demanding transformation and striving towards equity. I’m a feminist…
What do you think about the value of having an ‘International Women’s Day’? Is this day still relevant in 2016?
As long as International Women’s Day looks at eradicating gender inequity, it is of value – and there is much to be done in Malta, and beyond our blue borders. There are many women in the world whose rights are violated on a daily basis – I believe we have a responsibility to fight for the rights of all women, wherever they may be. This is not to speak on their behalf, but rather, to speak with them, and to draw attention to their situation when their voices are denied.
Do you see a difference between gender and access to education for adult learners in Malta and Europe?
It's funny, my first dissertation as an undergrad explored whether young women had the freedom to be themselves, this was 20 years ago. I had overheard a conversation on a bus, a mother was questioning her daughters decision to go to university, she considered it a waste of time since her daughter would eventually get married and have children.
Over the years things have certainly changed, almost to the point that women may be ridiculed for choosing to stay at home to raise a family – and so I would still ask, does a woman have the freedom to be herself? Of course, the same question can be asked on behalf of men – gender is not just about women, and all stereotypes and gendered expectations need to be questioned, challenged and transformed.
That said, in the case of adult learners who choose to continue their education, I would say that many women are more likely to face gendered obstacles, for example childcare responsibilities, or caring for other family members, lower wages and irregular hours, amongst others.
You are the founder of Integra Foundation. Could you tell us more about the work that Integra does related especially to migrant women in Malta?
Well, Integra functions thanks to a team of volunteers. We provide a number of services including English and Maltese lessons and a drop-in center for migrants and refugees. We also do a lot of work on advocacy, and research. Specifically on women, in collaboration with Kopin, we just completed a project on ante/post-natal care. We had great collaboration with refugee women and the Midwives at Mater Dei – it was a rich learning experience for all of us.
What future trends do you see in this sector, women and adult education?
Well, I certainly see more and more women choosing to return to formal education. I lecture on Youth & Community Studies, and many of our students are mature students – the majority are women. It can be a scary experience for them at first, particularly for those women who left school many years ago – I find that many of them lack confidence in themselves. It’s a privilege to share the learning experience with them, to witness the transformation.
They soon realise that they come with a wealth of knowledge and experience that contributes to our mutual learning. Certificates have become important to progress in a given career choice, but I don’t like to look at formal education as simply a means to an end. For me, it’s about the journey, and importantly, adult education can provide the space and opportunity to question everything that we know, to unlearn, and to be open to different perspectives and realities.
What message would you like to pass on to all women out there?
I’m not sure I have a message for ‘all’ women, since our realities are very different. Perhaps, to all women who are in a position to celebrate International Women’s Day, I would say: celebrate who you are with pride, acknowledge that you are able to celebrate who you are, and remember those women who are denied this possibility.