Last week, Malta held two side events during the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, one of them dealing with standard setting against gender-based violence and domestic violence. My fellow panellists included high-level representatives of UN Women, the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Equality Commission of Australia.

As the discussion progressed, we were reminded of the high prevalence of violence against women around the world: the internationally recognised figure for women experiencing such violence is one in three. When translated to the Maltese population, this statistic means that 70,000 Maltese women have suffered such violence, and several more will continue to be subjected to it unless we work to tackle this scourge systematically.

If this were not bad enough already, we were told by UN Women that initial research results from a study they are conducting is pushing this figure up for the first time in several years.

This is because the one-in-three statistic does not seem to capture everyday sexism in the form of harassment, sexual harassment and stalking very well.

If this finding is confirmed, then the number of women victims of gender-based violence here in Malta is likely to be around the 100,000 mark.

Research by UN Women also indicates that gender-based violence also negatively impacts the GDP by in the region of two per cent in social security, healthcare, underemployment or unemployment and even femicide. Translated to our economy, this tallies to €220 million annually.

In view of this, the European Union and UN women launched the Spotlight Initiative with the intent of eliminating violence against women and girls. In Australia, the ‘stop it at the start’ and campaigns were launched to tackle the gender stereotypes which form the basis of gender-based violence.

70,000 Maltese women have suffered such violence, and several more will continue to be subjected to it unless we work to tackle this scourge systematically

Malta was commended by my colleagues on the panel for its efforts to tackle gender-based violence and domestic violence systematically through law and policy. We were also congratulated for our work to highlight this cancer beyond our shores, including by hosting events such as the panel discussion we were on. This also in view of the efforts made by Malta to secure the EU Commission’s signature to the Istanbul Convention.

Yet, apart from the energy in the room against gender-based violence, what im-pressed me most were the recurrent stories of women who had been told by men that they exaggerated the seriousness of the violence inflicted on them.

And that struck a chord with our national discussion relating to the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill that we will hopefully continue to make progress on in committee later today.

It all fell into perspective to think that male parliamentarians from the Opposition benches used up a whole session of the committee to discuss the supposed harm to the unborn child – time that could have been better spent discussing the formulation of the provisions of the Bill.

It pains me to think that in spite of the fact that more than 70,000 women in Malta have experienced gender-based violence, they continue to be sidelined from focus in this legislative process.

Let’s be clear, the Bill in question does not – directly or indirectly – in any way affect Malta’s legal position on abortion, or any of the existing legal protections enjoyed by unborn children.

No one is touching the articles in the Criminal Code relating to abortion and to the protection of the unborn.

Yet, no amount of assurances seem to be enough for the troupe that wants to beat a different drum. This is all déjà vu. Indeed, theirs is no different to the erratic claim that the Marriage Equality Bill was going to lead to the sanctioning of the use of the terms ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. Clearly, they are not interested in facts, but in scaremongering.

All I can tell these people is: stop tilting at windmills, and let’s do the work.

Helena Dalli is Minister for European Affairs and Equality.

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