The end of femicide?

Educating people who do not respect others, let alone being aware of the existence of women’s rights, is the most important aim the state should strive to work for

Flowers and candles have been laid in memory of Paulina Dembska on the Sliema promenade
Flowers and candles have been laid in memory of Paulina Dembska on the Sliema promenade

After the recent ghastly murder of a Polish woman – Paulina Dembska - in Sliema, many NGOs called for the criminalisation of femicide, something that is nowhere to be seen in Malta’s criminal code. In fact, a Women’s Rights Foundation report recommended that femicide should be made a criminal offence or an aggravating offence of homicide. The report was released 48 hours after the murder of the 29-year-old woman, who was raped and strangled at Sliema’s Independence Garden in the early morning of January 2.

What is femicide? Femicide is a hate crime term, broadly defined as ‘the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female’. So femicide concerns the reason why a murder is carried out. By law, argued many, murder is murder. The reason why it happens is technically irrelevant – except for extenuating or aggravating circumstances, as the case may be.

Femicide is usually perpetrated by men, but sometimes female family members are also involved. It may include the climax of ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence, or situations where women have fewer resources or less power than their partners.

The United Nations has recognised femicide as the most extreme form of violence against women and girls and several countries have recognized it as a distinct category of killing. In many parts of the world, the concept of unequal gender relations has been deeply held for centuries. It is at the very core of how people relate to one another and how families and communities function. Often, these core beliefs create an environment that makes gender-based violence not only common, but even acceptable.

In Malta, some – including the minister responsible for justice and another minister -reacted to the call for the criminalisation of femicide in a technical manner, insisting that murder is murder and one cannot increase the punishment of a murderer who is jailed for life for murder.

Others – including the PN in Opposition – agreed that femicide should be formally criminalised.

But this is not just a technical legal issue. This is an emotional issue – and a very emotional one at that. The calls for criminalising femicide were not based on sophisticated legal arguments or on some alarming frequency with which it is being committed in Malta, but mostly on purely emotional grounds. No political party can afford to ignore popular emotions. And after the murder of Dembska, emotions ran high.

Eventually the Cabinet decided to overrule the technical opinion of the justice minister, and decided that steps are to be taken for femicide to be introduced as a concept in Malta’s criminal code so as to “strengthen our fight against gender-based violence”.

One wonders whether the promised changes in the criminal code will lead to a state that is better armed to fight against the femicide phenomenon in Malta. I will not be surprised if, eventually, these changes will hardly have any effect at all in our statistics of femicide. But, it is too early to judge whether these steps will just be the proverbial ‘sop to Cerebus’ – a concession to appease women’s rights groups on the eve of an election.

The basic argument is whether changing the law will prove to be a deterrent that will, in future, avoid such tragedies as the murder of Paulina Dembska. I seriously doubt it – even though this doubt should not lead one to oppose such changes.

In my opinion, education is by far the most important tool that is available to the state to combat the phenomenons of violence against women and femicide. It is no use legislating to control and stop the whims and capriciousness of people who have been brought up in an atmosphere where such whims are acceptable.

That is why femicide is much more common in countries where there is a lack of education and a lack of respect for the human body – whether male or female.

Other countries in the so-called third world are in a far worse situation than in Malta. However, even in Malta one comes across weird situations such as when a wife justifies her husband’s violence against her because she was at fault for something or other. Sounds incredible, but such situations really exist.

Educating people who do not respect others, let alone being aware of the existence of women’s rights, is the most important aim the state should strive to work for.

Inflation on the rise

Malta’s annual inflation rate rose to 2.6 percent in December of 2021 from 2.4 percent in the previous month. Although closing the year as the EU member state with the lowest inflation rate, December’s figure was the highest reading since 2012, as prices accelerated for food and non-alcoholic beverages, restaurants and hotels, furnishing and household maintenance. On the other hand, prices rose at a steady rate for recreation and culture, while inflation slowed somewhat for housing as well as for utilities, clothing and footwear.

All over the world, inflation is the highest it has been for decades, and it is also one of the most difficult economic issues that politicians have to face today.

People feel inflation acutely: nothing erodes living standards like inflation. All of a sudden, you have increases in wages, but you still cannot afford the new costs as commodity prices keep going up. And you can’t afford to buy a new car, and also your insurance has gone up. It also disproportionately affects people on the lower end of the socio-economic level.

In the pandemic, many higher-income people simply stopped eating out and started ordering goods. At the same time, factories – whether in Malta or China – that manufacture consumer goods were dealing with problems caused by sick workers. Those supply and labour shortages persisted wave after wave

The COVID virus will not just surrender with everything going back to normal. Instead, society will have to figure out how to live with a certain amount of coronavirus infections and deaths. And it will take time for the economy to settle into this new normal.

The immediate post-pandemic era will be noted for its high rate of inflation consistently going up and up – another reason why Robert Abela will probably call the election sooner rather than later.