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Malta for Dummies #11: Gender-based violence in words and action

HELENA DALLI SELECTIVE ON GENDER EQUALITY

Equality Minister, Helena Dalli, launched the annual ‘16 days of Activism’ campaign on gender-based violence in Malta. Referring to an online comment directed at Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar, Dalli asserted “there is desperate need for a mentality change in Malta”.

The mentality which needs changing, however, long predates this comment. It is best exemplified by Cutajar herself. She’s recently instigated a dispute with her Socialist counterpart MEP Ana Gomes following Cutajar’s taunting of Gomes based on ‘news’ from a Black Op site on which alarms have been raised as a site intended to discredit targets.

In response to Gomes’ report to Europol, Cutajar sent a tweet calling Gomes “a hypocritical politician” who contradicts her own ”preaching” about freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression, in the hands of the Labour Party, is an excuse for a free-for-all, epitomised by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici’s refusal to condemn Jason Micallef for his outrageous behaviour.

In the hands of Cutajar, this gives her ‘the right’ to attack an MEP sullying Malta’s name – it did not matter to Cutajar that Gomes was doing her job leading a European Parliament Rule of Law delegation to Malta.

The crude and primitive language used by Cutajar has a longstanding history in her consistent and vociferous attacks on Daphne Caruana Galizia, both before and after her assassination. On the four-month anniversary of Caruana Galizia’s brutal killing, Cutajar tweeted the following response to Matthew Caruana Galizia:

“I am just saying the truth. Embarissing (sic) is the way you are trying to worship and commemorate a divisive person which was disliked by the great majority.”

This is stock-in-trade language for someone who’s also a member of secret online hate groups designed to whip up hate against critics of the government and sustain co-ordinated attacks on Caruana Galizia’s family .

Here, misogynistic, violent and abusive comments are the order of the day. The case of Tina Urso was widely publicised after she was subjected to online harassment following a protest she attended in London. Nevertheless, these Facebook groups continue to exist and Cutajar remains an active member.

This context frames any alleged inroads made by Dalli’s Equality Ministry. While she expresses concern for “the abuse of women”, when presenting the new Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill, she emphasised its “wider remit…to truly advocate against violence in all its forms”.

Yet Dalli’s failure to address the worst act of violence against a woman this country has seen – the brutal assassination of a female journalist – was recently criticised by the UN.

The dehumanisation campaign mounted against Caruana Galizia across several decades relied (and still relies) on crude misogynistic stereotypes. Labelled ‘the witch of Bidnija’, the medieval connotations of this well-worn attempt to vilify women who don’t conform to the macho ‘feminine ideal’ are blatant, as is the fact that Caruana Galizia was ‘burnt at the stake’ by a massive car bomb.

Cutajar’s twitter feed is replete with insults to the slain journalist who, she asserts, “harassed hundreds of people”. Dalli and Cutajar would do well to acknowledge this government’s harassment of women journalists doing their job of holding to account the government they themselves should be questioning.

Neither Cutajar nor Dalli have said a word about Tony Zarb, who had said “the best thing about Daphne is she will not be back. He had also called women activists “prostitutes” – but that’s all fine and dandy for the Equality Minister. Not a word was said about another job given to one of the boys when Zarb was rewarded for his defence of the government with another consultancy at the Tourism Ministry.

European observers may begin to feel a little sceptical about Malta’s commitment to the eradication of gender-based violence. It will come as little comfort that a botched attempt was made in January to select Police Officer of the Year. The lucky winner, PC Chircop, was swiftly stripped of his honour because of his history of domestic violence.

Minister Michael Farrugia had defended an assistant police commissioner on domestic violence, saying he was a “hard working police officer who worked long hours”. The Equality Minister was silent there too, just as she was when Labour MP Joe Debono Grech had threatened MP Marlene Farrugia after she reportedly called him a corrupt simpleton. Debono Grech was awarded the National Order of Merit during the 2017 Republic Day celebrations.

Welcome to gender equality in Malta. ”Embarissing” (sic) doesn’t come close.

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