Equality minister says online abuse towards female MP shows need for mentality change

Equality Minister Helena Dalli this morning launched the '16 Days of Activism' campaign, which will start on Sunday and will seek to galvanise Malta to end gender-based violence

Equality Minister Helena Dalli said the online abuse levelled at MP Rosianne Cutajar showed there was a desperate need for a change in mentality
Equality Minister Helena Dalli said the online abuse levelled at MP Rosianne Cutajar showed there was a desperate need for a change in mentality

Equality Minister Helena Dalli has stressed that there is “desperate need for a mentality change in Malta”, following online abuse suffered by Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar.

The minister was speaking at the launch of the annual '16 Days of Activism' campaign, that will start on the 25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – and run through till the 10 December – International Human Rights Day.

The theme of this year’s campaign is ‘Orange the World: #HearMeToo’, and will bring to the forefront the voices of women and girls who have been the victims of gender-based abuse. The campaign will manifest itself in Malta in the form of billboards, posters administered throughout the country, talks and conferences, and shirts that will be worn by football players before first division matches.

Dalli explained how over a two-year period, her ministry, along with the Commission on Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence, provided training to the police, the health services, social work services and the judiciary on how to handle such issues.

"We can never stop talking about this reality because one in three women are victims of this violence and it is one of the most under-reported crimes," Dalli said, adding that while men too suffered abuse, the majority of victims were women.

She stressed that violence could take many forms and was not just physical. In many cases, she said that women suffered financial abuse, debilitating their ability to leave the household due to her lack of financial freedom. "When we talk of violence, we are referring to a very wide spectrum."

Simone Cini, the Commissioner for Gender-based Violence reiterated Dalli's sentiments and said that most often, children too prevent a female victim from leaving. "This is why we're organising campaigns to educate children on domestic violence, so that they'll be aware of the situation and may urge the mother themselves to leave an abusive household."

"An educative role is a preventive role," she said. While Cini highlighted the importance of the media in promoting awareness, she said that the converse could also be true and criticised media reports that downplayed the importance of legislation that prevents the abuse of female victims.

"We are a society of victim blamers," Cini said. "This primitive mentality needs to change."

Turning to the political sphere, Dalli expressed disbelief at members of the Opposition voting against the ratification of the Istanbul convention, legislation that covering a whole range of traumatising acts of violence. "I personally believe that no other country would have voted against this legislation while a majority of members of the opposition in Malta did."

Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar posted screenshots on her Facebook page showing the kind of verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of staunch nationalists
Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar posted screenshots on her Facebook page showing the kind of verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of staunch nationalists

She mentioned the case of Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar suffering verbal abuse on social media and suggested that Maltese mentality is still a primitive one. "Gender-based violence is a cancer to our society."

When asked about the recent comments of PN MP Edwin Vassallo in Parliament, calling Dalli the "queen of totalitarianism" for trying to shut down opinions which she deemed dangerous, such as the case of Matthew Grech on X Factor, Dalli told MaltaToday that like these parties, she had every right to express displeasure and indignance.

"While the opposition have every right to vote against the ratification of the Istanbul convention, I have every right to say that it's absolutely wrong. This isn't a law on tax reform, this is about the abuse of women."

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