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Zero tolerance for violence on women

Misogyny is not limited to cases of domestic violence. It is also surfacing in social media where verbal abuse directed against women in public life is becoming more frequent.

Maltese women are among the most likely to experience severe violence which has consequences on their health a European index, published today by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) reveals.

The positive news from the report-which is largely based on 2012 statistics- is that the prevalence of gender violence in Malta is lower than the European average. The percentage of Maltese women who speak out and report the perpetrator to the police is also higher than the European average.

The bad news is that Maltese women are more likely to suffer health consequences when they are attacked. Malta ranks among the top five  countries when it comes to severity of violence against women.

These statistics suggests that a misogynistic culture of extreme violence against women has deep roots in Malta.  A recent case of a women who was literally buried alive in a Kalkara cave was a reminder of how brutal this culture can be.

Official statistics show reported cases of domestic violence increasing from the 1024 cases reported in 2013, rising to 1,272 cases in 2016. 579 cases reported in 2016 involved minor injuries while 31 cases involved serious injury.

But misogyny is not limited to cases of domestic violence. It is also  surfacing in the social media particularly in threats of violence directed against women in public life.

The most recent threat was reserved to MEP Roberta Metsola who deserved to be burnt alive, according to a facebook comment. The Occupy Justice protesters were likened to prostitutes and invited to take their protest to Strait Street by former GWU general secretary and government consultant Tony Zarb.

During her life Daphne Caruana Galizia was often vilified as a “witch” a favourite motif of the misogynistic mind-frame harking back to the witch hunts, a title which is often reserved for dangerous women who upset the patriarchial order by their audacity.

In the past President Agatha Barbara was also vilified for her assertiveness and defiance of gender stereotypes.

Confronting the many facets of this misogynistic culture is a national imperative. One positive initiative in this sense was taken by the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society which saw four Maltese footballers joining the appeal to stop gender-based violence.

While progress has been made with regards to laws against domestic violence, this also has to be reflected in daily policing with reports of domestic violence being addressed in a more serious, effective and timely manner. All members of the police force must be trained on how to tackle these issues. Sexism in the police force has to be rooted out for women to trust them.

The courts must also be stricter. According to Roberta Lepre, director of Victim Support Malta, “the majority of offenders still get away with impunity”.

But while updating laws and ensuring a better enforcement of them is important, what the country needs is to wage a cultural battle against misogyny in its many facets. For as long as a segment of males hates women or treats them as inferiors or sexual objects, women in general will not be able  feel safe in their daily lives and confident enough to take on a public role.

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