Malta needs to immediately address the culture of misogyny prevalent in the country, Lara Dimitrijevic, lawyer and founder of Women’s Rights Foundation, said during heart-wrenching vigil for Paulina Dembska.
Dembska, who was murdered on 2nd January, has has been added to the list of women who have had their lives cut short by tortuous violation and femicide in Malta. Her memory was honoured in a vigil in Sliema yesterday, with scores of political figures, including Malta’s Prime Minister turning up.
Lovin Malta got to speak to Dimitrijevic during the event in an exclusive interview to ask her what needs to be done to uproot this culture of misogyny that has enabled people like Abner Aquilina to harass and abuse with little repercussion.
The murder has opened up a wide-ranging debate in Malta with some focusing on the impact of mental illness on the murder, while others pointing to the long standing issue of femicide and violence against woman in the country.
Lovin Malta asked Dimitrijevic what she thinks should be done from both a legal and cultural aspect to prevent situations, like the rape and murder of Dembska, from happening again.
And here is what she had to say:
“We have taken legislative steps, we have ratified and implemented the Istanbul convention but we have stopped there. That is clearly not enough, it’s not even within the spirit of what we ought to be doing as part of our legal obligation” Dimitrijevic said.
“Just changing the law and increasing punishment doesn’t do anything. Of course, to a certain extent it is a deterrent but there have to be other factors. From a judicial point of view, these cases need to be taken very seriously and need to be punished accordingly, but also we need to work on our prevention – it is our legal obligation,” she continued.
“It has to be general, it has to be education across the board – from the young to the old. But also, we need widespread education within society itself, we have really become a country that tolerates hate and this can be seen especially on social media.”
“What is happening with this hate is that it is perpetuating more hate, and rather than seeing people put a stop to it and having a zero tolerance attitude toward it, we continue to let it happen. And this is what needs to be changed, we need improvement across the board.”
“Yes politicians, yes the judiciary, yes the police – they all have to do their part, but so do the individual members of society, we need to absolutely stop this,” she eloquently explained.
And while she admitted that education is where it starts, she continued to stress the importance of having a bystander approach
“We need to speak up and say ‘hey dude, this is absolutely not acceptable’ but we don’t and that is why it becomes a tolerated situation. This tolerant attitude of ‘uwijja’ is what is really damaging.”
We further asked the lawyer and activist whether she thinks something more should be done on an EU level, because violence against women is an endemic that has infected all member states.
And to this she responded “oh most definitely”.
“I call upon the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention because this is something that affects all the individual citizens of the European Union.”
“I dont think it is right that we say at an EU level that this is an issue of a member state and so we shouldn’t interfere. Yes we should interfere because as a union, we should protect all of the citizens and this form of violence happens across all member states.”
Dimitrijevic and her colleagues also conducted a Country Report on Femicide Research and Data: Malta and it found that “Malta’s societal character is heavily framed by patriarchy, seen clearly in the social attitudes, gender roles and the male dominated discourse in everyday life.”
“The mentality is driven by gender stereotypes, especially the roles men and women should play in the family and in society. Men are the public body, while women are the private body. This reflection of how men and women take up space has hindered women who have experienced and are survivors of gender-based violence to access help and assistance (Naudi, Clarke & Saliba, 2018).”
Femicide and gender-based violence are real, even in Malta. Remaining ignorant to the fact – whether you are a man or a woman – only stops progress, silences women and puts them in immediate danger.
So as Dimitrijevic said, it is up to us as individual members of society to call out inappropriate behaviour and quite frankly, not let this shit slide.
If you see someone being harassed either verbally or physically, even when it is being disguised as a harmless joke, call it out.
What do you think should be done to tackle the culture of misogyny in Malta?