A tragic incident has thrown gender-based violence into the forefront of national conversation with many dedicated to maximising awareness about the grim reality that women endure daily at the hands of misogyny. Yet, despite the recent spike in acknowledgement, such threatening discrimination has been around for a lot longer than many like to admit.
In fact, it has been on the EU agenda for quite some time now and this begs the question; why are we still on the losing side of the fight against gender-based violence?
Paulina Dembska, a 29-year-old Polish national and dedicated cat lover, was raped and strangled in Sliema’s Independence Gardens by her alleged killer Abner Aquilina.
This brutal yet senseless murder has led to an outpour of solidarity for Dembska and a fervent frustration at the culture of misogyny and lack of mental health awareness that allowed such an atrocity to occur.
So, Lovin Malta reached out to some of the islands’ MEPs to see whether they think enough is being done at an EU level to prevent femicide and incidents of gender-based violence.
And this is what they had to say:
1. Cyrus Engerer
“Do I think enough is being done at EU level to prevent femicides and incidents of gender-based violence? Fuck no!” Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer passionately, and quite rightfully, responded.
“With 137 women murdered every day across the world due to gender-based violence, no one is doing enough.”
“Recently the European Union updated its list of serious crimes to include gender-based violence and hate speech on its list of serious cross border offences. This is a step in the right direction, however, this is not even close to enough.”
“We need a robust, horizontal EU directive to combat gender-based violence paired with the EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention, currently being blocked by a handful of Member States citing religion as their objection,” Engerer said in reference to countries like Armenia, Hungary and Czechia who are yet to ratify the treaty.
For more background, the Istanbul Convention is the first legally binding instrument at EU level that recognises violence against women as a form of discrimination and thus a violation of human rights – Malta has ratified it.
“But even all of this would not be enough! We can have all the conventions, directives, treaties and agreements in the world but even all of this would not have saved Paulina’s life,” he continued.
“If we don’t change the mentality of our society, and break away from the ideas we have about our ownership of women’s bodies- women will continue to live in danger. We need a paradigm shift in our society which normalises gender equality and not gender-based violence. Where science and professional advice is sought, rather than dogma.”
2. David Casa
“No – enough is not being done. Not at EU level and not at national level either,” Nationalist MEP David Casa said.
“Most EU legislation in this area so far has focused on the rights of victims. We need to go further by encouraging widespread adoption of measures established in international conventions aimed at combatting violence against women.”
“More so, we need a cultural shift while keeping gender equality considerations at the forefront of our policymaking. And crucially we need enforcement.”
“Legislation is not worth the paper it is printed on unless it is effectively enforced.”
“We need authorities to have access to the necessary tools, powers and training to be able to expediently identify risks and take appropriate coercive action to mitigate them. Threats against women, whether online or in person, must be taken more seriously. They must be investigated and safeguards put in place to protect those that are at risk.”
Casa further called for better education when it comes to mutual respect and the understanding of acceptable social behaviour, along with the the need for more accurate and less sporadic data when it comes to homicide and intimate partner femicide
“I join the people of Malta and Gozo in expressing shock and sorrow over the horrific murder of Paulina Dembska. She should have been safe on our island and we failed her. My thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
3. Josianne Cutajar
“As long as cases of femicide and gender based-violence still exist amongst us, we definitely need to do more.”
“Fighting this plague in our society requires a strong joint effort by the EU and its Member States – and beyond. The Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention (which Malta is a party to) is an important instrument which is unfortunately not ratified by all EU Member States – and I reiterate the importance that the European Union ratifies it as well for protection towards women to be streamlined across the EU,” Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar explained.
Like the rest of her colleagues, Cutajar thinks that change must go deeper than just legislative amendments.
“It is essential that we work hard on changing the mentality through education, funding programmes and addressing misogyny and stereotypes. Furthermore, the enforcement of laws and strengthening of services in the sector also needs to continuously be addressed.”
When asked about why she thinks not enough is being done, she simply stated that the “numbers speak for themselves”.
“In the past years we have seen an increase in violence which is now being perpetuated online as well, an increase which was aggravated due to the COVID pandemic. As long as this wound continues to exist, there is never enough being done to curb the issue.”
In order to tackle the longstanding and dangerous issue of misogyny, Cutajar explained that there is another EU proposal to counter violence against women that will be launching in the coming months.
“Of course, this will only be the first step. The co-legislators (the Council of the EU and the EP) need to reach an agreement.”
“Other initiatives as outlined in the Gender Equality Strategy launched in 2020, are also key. These include measures to address stereotypes and misogyny (which are key causes of gender-based violence), ensure financial independence and also equality in all spheres of life.”
“Less than a year ago, I worked on a parliamentary report on gender and Cohesion policy. Structural funds are one of the most prominent hallmarks of European integration and their use towards the elimination of gender-based violence and discrimination should be supported and strengthened.”
4. Alex Agius Saliba
“I believe that the root cause of gender-based violence remains gender inequalities and stereotypes which are still prevalent in many Member States,” Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba responded.
“Although many efforts have been undertaken to raise awareness against gender-based violence I believe that a public health approach taken at an EU level would be best to combat this type of violence.”
“As also suggested by the World Health Organization I believe that a public health approach can prevent gender-based violence at the community level, the individual level, the relationship level and the societal level,”
This means that violence against women should be considered a public health issue with severe consequences.
Violence against women was recognized as a global public health issue when in 1996 the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution that declared that violence is a leading public health problem worldwide.
They also highlighted the urgent need to address violence against women and girls by using a gender perspective when analysing its causes and magnitudes towards the goal of elimination
“The EU can and must do more to prevent more unnecessary deaths throughout our Union.”
As you could probably tell, the Maltese MEPs agree that this issue is one that has penetrated society so deeply that a myriad of changes need to be made: from legislative, to judiciary, to educational and to cultural – society needs a complete reform.
This starts at the offensive or objectifying stares and remarks disguised as harmless jokes made to make marginalised persons feel as if their discomfort to discrimination is an overreaction rather than their instincts telling them “we’re not safe here”.
As Engerer eloquently put it “we need a paradigm shift in our society which normalises gender equality and not gender-based violence.”
*The above TikTok was taken prior to the murder of Paulina Dembska
This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
What do you think about their comments?