Dembska murder: a perfect storm created by our male-dominated society

Instead of taking a self-justifying position, men should focus more on becoming part of the movement

A demonstration against violence against women held in the aftermath of the Dembska murder, outside the police general headquarters in Floriana
A demonstration against violence against women held in the aftermath of the Dembska murder, outside the police general headquarters in Floriana

Following the assassination and rape of Paulina Dembska, the 29-year-old Polish student and cat feeder living in Malta, the Faculty for Social Wellbeing immediately issued a statement condemning the ‘culture’ of misogyny that sweeps our communities and has created, together with other variables, the perfect conditions for yet another femicide.

As the statement we issued goes, “it is a harsh reminder that today, in the 21st century, there is still an urgent need to build equality between men and women in the Maltese islands and to eradicate the gender stereotypes which are the source of inequality and gender-based violence, including femicide.”

The defensive stance that a number of men are taking is uncalled for and was the subject of a debate during my radio show on 103 Malta’s Heart on Saturday. As Dr Lara Dimitrijevic, lawyer and Dr Marceline Naudi, senior lecturer, both long-time women rights activists, have claimed, the patriarchal male-dominated society we are immersed in is creating the perfect storm.

What they said is very much in line with what was quoted in the press release that; “[we] are calling for an end to the gender-motivated killing of women and spotlighting this important issue on a national platform”.

I think that men instead of taking a self-justifying position should focus more on becoming part of the movement. They should be about empathising and actively contributing to change whilst being auto-reflective, engaging actively in deconstructing this embedded culture of misogyny, coercion, sexist prejudice, violence and the general oppression of women very much like the movement Men Against Violence. This unique organisation in Malta has provided incessantly to the cause.

Not only. The truth of the matter is that we cannot afford to wait passively for another horrific situation to unfold for us to realise that we are not out of the woods. ‘Dedicating’ some moments to talk about this situation until the next clickable news-item pops-up is an insult to the victims. What is needed is decisive action.

We also need to re-think our social and public policy, strengthen our legislative infrastructure (and its enforcement), improve the reactive police intervention, develop more reporting tools for potential victims, invest in research, improve our service provision, mend our unfitting use of language, have more politicians speak about this issue, heal our media reporting, to name just a few.

But I believe that the key elements at the heart of the much-needed transformation need to be the following. First and foremost, it is imperative that we have the validation and recognition of the voice of the grassroots. NGOs are at the heart of what is happening and are continually present as they are supporting so many women. Secondly, we need the courage to invest in converging the efforts of all the stakeholders involved in this issue; government services, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, activists and victims. Thirdly, with all the good intentions, entities working separately is not a good omen. Strength lies in the collective.

All of this should be complimented with: “Awareness-raising, community mobilisation, educational programmes, and support for children and young people are essential to ensure that the needs of potential victims and the threat of potential perpetrators are not falling on deaf ears or slipping through the net of existing services.”

In its statement the Faculty goes on to say that: “Gender-motivated killings of women are an assault on universal human rights and seriously undermine human dignity. Preventing all forms of violence against women requires the engagement of all segments of society, most especially the sustained participation of men and boys as partners in building more respectful relationships throughout our Maltese society.”

But I feel that the assassination of Paulina is exceptional even more so because it brings to the fore other issues which need to be discussed urgently, namely religious cult fanaticism; the ‘culture’ of stalking; untreated and unmonitored mental health conditions; hate speech; misuse of social media; a sense of lack of safety in the community, to name just a few, which in more ways than one have contributed to her assassination. Alas this does nothing to clear us, as a community, from our culpability in allowing this femicide to happen.

The ball is on our court. We need to really address this matter urgently and expediently.

I conclude with what Dr Albert Bell, an esteemed colleague in the Faculty stated in a Facebook post (6th January); “…the aetiology of violent crime entails multifarious bio-psycho-social factors, from genetic factors to childhood trauma, serious psychiatric disorders to myriad social contingencies. It is rarely a case of one singular factor but a nefarious cocktail that builds up gradually and is eventually unleashed with disastrous consequences for the victims of such crime.”

Nothing new in a way, because every femicide had similar predictable physiognomies.

Paulina is a reminder that once again we have failed women. This heinous crime is a call for action, way overdue.