It’s simple: those who love you, would not lay a hand on you

Josianne Cutajar • Beyond laws and policies, lies the central issue of misogyny, which by definition refers to the contempt for women

Josianne Cutajar
Josianne Cutajar

In the first six months of 2020 alone, more than 600 cases of domestic violence were reported in Malta, a 15% increase from the previous year. What are we doing to address the issue? What are we doing to make a change?

We had just about concluded our New Year celebrations earlier this year, when we had been informed of another femicide in our society. This time, it was Chantelle Chetcuti, a woman who had the strength and courage to bring her toxic relationship to an end and rediscover her independence. Instead of independence, she was faced with death, at the hands of her own partner.

Every time a woman is killed, we are reminded of the terrible femicides that have taken place within our society over the years. Our shock and sadness is futile, however, if we do not make it our first priority to ensure that the same does not ever happen again.

Disputes, issues and problems peppered with violence are much more commonplace than one would think and thus, we must not only concern ourselves with the murder of women, but also, with the abuse, gender-based violence and domestic violence experienced by men, women, children and the elderly on a daily basis. We must work together in their name, in order to give them the much-needed strength and support they require to take the decisive step toward self-care and addressing the situation.

The question therefore, is how. How are we going to eradicate the abuse, the merciless murders? Our laws and policies have undoubtedly been strengthened and the government has been working tirelessly to improve and refine these laws, ensuring that there are effective mechanisms in place, to not only protect victims of domestic violence, but also to implement preventative measures.

Services, policies and laws are present, but they are simply never enough. They need constant strengthening and in the case of the latter, effective enforcement. Such effectiveness does not merely imply that a victim of abuse has a hotline to call but rather, that when they reach out for help, they feel empowered, supported and ultimately, safe.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we listen to the professionals and non-governmental organisations in the sector, as well as the victims and survivors, and the perpetrators themselves. This will help us in strengthening policies and services accordingly to address the situation holistically.

Just a few years ago, I was practicing as a Family Court lawyer and even then, I put all my energy into assisting those who face any and all forms of domestic violence. Since being elected into the European Parliament, I have made it my mission that the work in this particular field is continued. Even on my first day, I emphasised the importance of tackling this ever-growing social issue; one that is not only evident on our shores, but throughout Europe and the world.

Beyond laws and policies, however, lies the central issue of misogyny, which by definition refers to the contempt for women; the mentality and belief that women are secondary to men. Such a mentality manifests itself in all aspects of our daily lives, ranging from the young to the old and overcoming this is, arguably, our greatest challenge.

That being said, it is important to note that our fight is not against men but rather, the patriarchy, and though it primarily affects women, it also harms everyone in between. Men who have fallen victim to domestic violence are aware of just how difficult it is to report psychological abuse; a byproduct of a patriarchal system, which asks for and expects men to be strong and show little to no emotion at all times.

Hence the fight against the patriarchy – as well as domestic violence – is not only key but beneficial for every individual who has been affected in one way or another within our society.

Last Wednesday, this year’s edition of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence kicked off. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

This year the campaign took on new impetus, amid increasing reports showing an alarming increase in domestic violence cases, as families faced lockdowns introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to the laws and policies, as well as their effective enforcement, education is our greatest tool. We must work together to eliminate the misogynistic mentality and teach our children that violence is never the answer, it is never acceptable and that in our homes, we must show and receive love and not incite fear and violence. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.

Linked to education, is technological literacy as well as the full use of digitalisation for training purposes. Technology is a powerful, positive tool that we should make better use of in our fight against domestic violence. In a way, COVID-19 helped accelarate this technological process, as the success of numerous apps and innovations launched during the pandemic has shown us. But we can do more.

In this regard, I would like to commend the Malta Police Force’s investment in a virtual reality training system that would allow police officers to ‘virtually’ step into the shoes of a child victim of domestic abuse. I feel it is crucial that police, and other authorities, really understand the trauma that victims of domestic violence go through.

With proper education, combined with the vigilant enforcement of the laws and strengthening of measures and services already in place, let’s all strive toward the healing of this gaping social wound, for a brighter, safer future.

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour MEP • This is a paid post