What women are still up against

Former GWU chief Tony Zarb’s comments were just the tip of the iceberg. Ever since the Occupy Justice protesters positioned themselves outside the Auberge de Castille, sexist comments beneath online news stories and on Facebook have flowed in.

Being criticized when taking a public position is part of the game. It is expected that any group taking a stand like this, here in Malta, would be subject to some anger, insults and even ridicule. The usual accusations are that every action is partisan, or promoting a hidden agenda. Partisan politics is so dominant in this country that it seems impossible to have an opinion or friendship without being labelled as a political apparatchik. According to this mentality, independent thought does not exist in Malta.

But as this protest group happens to be led by women (although it is open to everyone), there has been an additional undertone to the usual unpleasant comments.

Tony Zarb wrote that the women should go to Strait Street, likening them to prostitutes, and this hit the news. But other commentators also described them as ‘frustrated housewives’. They should go and clean their houses like ‘normal’ women. Their husbands will soon be looking for other women. They found an excuse to escape the housework. They should go and do the laundry.

The comments either attempted to belittle them, or descended into vulgar, sexual suggestions which I won’t repeat here. When some representatives of the group, who happened to be women, presented their statement to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, the snipers mocked them by spinning that a group of male politicians (pulling the strings behind the scenes) must have written it for them, that they were told what to say.

This just shows what women in Malta are still up against. We talk of equality, but this is what lies beneath the surface. I know what this means, as I have repeatedly had to face this attitude myself.

The Occupy Justice protests were triggered by the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Everyone can recognise that her achievements as a journalist were extraordinary. But she was also accustomed to being put down as woman. She lived with sexist insults being hurled against her incessantly. She was called a witch and a slut. Her physical appearance was derided and torn to pieces. And it was government hacks and prominent journalists who were the prime movers of this constant political, gender-based onslaught. People who influence opinions and news.

I know many women who attended these protests and I won’t defend them here because they do not need it. They will certainly not be put down by this rubbish on Facebook and elsewhere. The protesters, whatever their gender, have every right to speak out like anyone else and they will continue to do so. There were men at the protests too, but the reality is that a group led by women is still hard to digest here in Malta.


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