14 NGOs hold protest against gender-based violence

“I am tired of holding keys in my hand at night. I am tired of being scared of every tiny sound in the street,” activist Francesca Zammit told the protesters gathered outside of the police’s headquarters this morning following two violent attacks in as many weeks.

Activists bore colourful banners which read “we are sick and tired”, generally referring to a lack of action taken to prevent gender-based violence over the years. The names of “victims of femicide” in Malta were printed out on bright, orange sheets and affixed to the gates of the police’s headquarters in Floriana.

“I am tired of pretending I am talking on my phone while I’m walking so it looks like I’m talking to someone who could call the police. I am tired because it’d be useless to call the police,” Zammit stated, echoing the demonstration’s call for more accountability from authorities on gender-based violence and the fear voiced by women in a “patriarchal and misogynistic society”.

Moviment Graffitti activist and sociologist Angele Deguara spoke of the need for more accountability from authorities, politicians, courts, the media and the education system, “especially from those men who still think they are superior to women and that women are there to serve them and their fantasies”. Zammit and Deguara were two of seven speakers at the protest, which was well-attended in spite of unfavourable weather.

The demonstration, which was organised by 14 different NGOs who carry out work related to human rights, follows another held in Sliema two weeks ago as the nation reeled from shock at the brutal rape and murder of Paulina Dembska.

On Tuesday, a man from Żabbar whose name was banned from publication under court order was charged with attempted murder and held at Mount Carmel Hospital after stabbing his wife with a chisel.

Primarily, the organisations lambasted the police force’s crime conference, held on 13 January, arguing that the police’s claims that the rape and murder of Dembska by accused Abner Aquilina, the prime suspect in the case, was not a “gender-based crime”, were “insensitive” and “uninformed”.

“The police claimed that the alleged attacker has a rather ‘complicated sexual identity’ and consequently he attacked persons at random, regardless of their gender,” the joint press statement reads, referring to Aquilina’s actions prior to committing the murder.

“Having a ‘complicated sexuality’ makes gender and sexuality a central concern rather than an irrelevant one. Regardless of who the alleged perpetrator attacked before, the fact remains that ultimately, it was a woman who was raped and murdered, reflecting the fact that women continue to be the vast majority of rape victims and of gender-based violence leading to murder,” the statement adds.

In their demands, organisations called for “all to assume responsibility” for the collective failure to address the issues that lead to gender-based violence and the perpetuation of gender roles and stereotypes.

“Gender stereotypes need to be addressed on different levels, particularly at school and in the media. Opinion leaders such as politicians, religious leaders, journalists, editors, teachers, lawyers and members of the judiciary as well as policymakers need to recognise their responsibility in reproducing gender stereotypes and to take this more seriously,” the organisations added

During the demonstration, organisations also called for sexual and relationship education to “start earlier and last longer” emphasising, in particular, the need to stress consent and equality as cornerstones for such educational efforts.

The activist groups also called for an end to victim-blaming practices, referring to how the overall reaction to victims of gender-based violence, both in public fora of discussion and within the legal system, tends to blame the victim rather than addressing the aggressor’s violence.

“Victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape need to be taken more seriously. It is useless claiming that these victims do not file reports. They are more likely to report their abuse if they trust the police and the justice system and know that they will be taken seriously by all sectors of society including the healthcare system and the media,” the organisations stated.

The following organisations and groups participated in the demonstration:

Moviment Graffitti
Women’s Rights Foundation
Malta LGBT+ Rights Movement (MGRM)
Young Progressive Beings
Doctors for Choice Malta
Integra Foundation
aditus foundation
YMCA Malta
Men Against Violence
Għajjejt u Xbajt
The Malta Women’s Lobby
Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar
Migrant Women Association Malta
Women for Women Foundation


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