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Title: The role of women in World War II : the case of Malta
Authors: Cusens, Simon
Keywords: World War, 1939-1945 -- Women -- Malta
Women -- Malta -- History -- 20th century
World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, Female
Issue Date: 2014
Abstract: Unlike the UK’s liberated women of the period, Maltese pre-war women had been well shielded from the British Suffragette revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century by a strong, anti-feminist Maltese Roman Catholic Church. Preparations for war began in Malta as early as 1935 with anti-gas drills as the spectre of a chemical attack by Italy became plausable. The run up period towards the outbreak of hostilities, particularly the envisaged dearth of men who would be required for Conscription, obliged the Colonial Authorities to find ways of circumventing social taboos in order to make maximum use of available but limited resources. Ways to tap into the vast female labour resource pool of Malta’s housewives and young women would have to be found but without raising the ire or wrath of the Church, thereby releasing women for war-effort or relief work. Both Government and the Church faced by a Hobson’s choice as war progressed and the consequences of Conscription took hold; either of these Institutions nor Maltese society as a whole, being prepared for such a paradigm shift of women joining the outdoor workforce ranks. The threat of war loomed and the consequences were unthinkable. Keeping the status quo was not an option. Malta’s Ecclesiastics controlled women with a vice-like grip but a shrewd Government strategy in 1939, coming across to stakeholders as a Church-actioned rally call for men and women, succeeded in drawing thousands of women to join a Passive Defence Civilian Force, taking form as Ecclesiastics-led District Committees to be occupied with a search for citizen volunteers for the Force. As war progressed, women proved their dedication and reliability to the various causes they undertook. The resulting impact of the various female forces and gangs coming together in a relatively harmonised way was nothing short of phenomenal. It left an indelible imprint of significance proportions, punctuating a new, strong influence of women over the very fabric of daily life and Maltese society as a whole in a ways that had never been so pronounced. The result of the strategic plan to engage women oversaw the coming together of all the female Religious who had for years been running Hospitals, Schools and Charitable Institutions. They became part of an extended female force that included rural women working the fields to keep produce going, the running of communal feeding and child-care schemes, the holding of round-the-clock Prayer vigils, food and laundry logistical services for the 30,000 strong Garrison and the population as a whole as well as offering succour to the homeless. Hundreds of other women led local, regional and even national welfare-related committees backing social relief objectives that would also contribute significantly to the war relief effort. Some of these committees were set up in the UK and USA and raised huge amounts of funds, contributing further to the plight of Malta. Malta’s women, whether home or abroad, sang, danced and entertained,offering reprieve, compassion or care Women prayed for their fighting men, boosted morale whilst fulfilling their traditional household roles, tending to and providing for the needs of their young or elderly dependents and relatives in the absence of their men. Malta’s most influential newspaper; the Times of Malta, Military Intelligence staff pools, offices, laundries, schools, hospitals and entertainment venues were mostly staffed or directed by women too. Social injustices that prevailed during wartime caused widespread profiteering and abuses, pushing women further, deeper, higher and at times lower than accepted social norms. In the absence of proper law and order on the streets and without tangible forms of social relief when actually needed, it was for some, a daily struggle for survival for which few rules applied. A main finding of this study confirmed that women’s wartime contributions were of utmost significance, more far-reaching and absolutely vital for the Garrison’s success than may have been previously known. Women provided the social, administrative, operational and logistical platforms for the country’s civil and military administrations akin to what an engine and power train provide to a car - The Island was being run on women. Some women stood above the rest, sometimes in Malta or in friendly territories abroad. Others risked their very lives working discreetly in hostile lands, abetting the Allies’ cause. The Author feels honored to have discovered some unsung heroines, bringing them to the fore and to public knowledge for for the first time. The result of this nation-wide mobilisation of women constituted the single, most impacting, mass-liberation event for women todate. The long held belief of Women’s liberation having been a product of the post-war era or the result of a socially-conscious post-war Maltese Self-Government no longer holds. The study proves that as a direct result of an impending war, a whole generation of Maltese women were liberated up to almost a decade before hostilities ended with the first Maltese women to don military uniforms making their proud and public entry into Valletta during the Victory Parade of 1945.
Description: M.A.MALTESE STUD.
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - InsMS - 2014

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