One more femicide too many

One more femicide too many

There has been a worryingly increasing number of murdered women in Malta

Last Saturday, Malta woke up to yet another murder of a woman, Lourdes Agius from Paola. She was 35. Her partner was arrested on suspicion, and the usual comments ensued.

Apart from the shock of yet another victim of domestic abuse, on social media and online comments the usual pushback came in an assortment of excuses, ranging from: “the guy was an illegal immigrant from Africa” to “this is not only a Maltese problem.”

Thankfully, my friends and colleagues, journalist Josanne Cassar and history professor Yosanne Vella shared a quick statistic on Facebook which easily dispelled such excuses. Their list confirmed a worryingly increasing number of murdered women in Malta (already three in 2018, and averaging two a year over many years) which confirms that femicide is on the increase.

My question is, can we make any more excuses for this? For clarity I will dwell on four commonly-held “arguments” which to me, sound like excuses that simply reinforce the prejudice against women.

Excuse 1. Malta is not unique in violence against women:

Even with all the recent changes in the Law defending civil rights and attempting to redress gender imbalance, on the ground, Maltese society hasn’t even started to deal with misogynism. One has to be seriously impaired in terms of gender awareness not to notice (let alone admit) that Maltese society is still profoundly patriarchal, chauvinistic in any sense, and, not to put a finer point on it, plain machista.

Maltese society is still profoundly patriarchal, chauvinistic in any sense, and, not to put a finer point on it, plain machista.

To take gender microaggression, where what appear to be “innocent” or “small” gestures immediately put a person in extreme discomfort because of their gender, we know that women are the major victims. Jokes, prejudiced attitudes, gender ignorance, an inflated sense of male ego, not to mention the way many women are undermined on the work place … the list is endless.

In the several countries that I have lived and worked, gender inequality and bias is institutionally recognized. Robust training schemes in all institutions reflect a serious and systematic attempt to address such matters in schools, hospitals, at the workplace, and across all walks of life.

Microaggressions are not trivialized, and the reality of being dismissed for sexual and gender violation is now the norm, not the exception. If we can say the same about Malta (and for this you need to ask those at the receiving end of it—i.e. women, the LGBTQ community, and minorities), then we should feel better. But are we seriously addressing this?

Excuse 2. Maltese women are emancipated. We even had two women Presidents:

Unlike larger republics like Italy, France, the US, Russia and China, Malta had two women Presidents in less than 50 years. Yet, on a closer look, one cannot miss how our female Presidents were abused simply for being women.

Notwithstanding her life-long dedication to the independence of her country, being the first ever female MP, and even going to jail for taking part in protests against colonialism, President Agatha Barbara was constantly ridiculed for being a woman: if not her looks, it was her gender which, like her sexuality, was questioned and constantly bandied about.

Some would say we have “matured”. The last time I looked, President Marie Louise Coleiro-Preca was not immune from insults. Some felt entitled to take potshots at her, simply because she is a woman. Her attire, physical appearance, even her personal life as a woman have been used as political jibes against her.

The same remarks made on our female heads of states were never used against male Presidents. The same goes for all women in other walks of life to this day. The case is compelling and many women will tell you how they have to endure the same … and worse. That these could be deemed as microaggressions to start with, is no excuse.

That the same was levelled against Hilary Clinton in the US Presidential election, to name a recent case, is even less of an excuse. We can’t, as a society, claim to have progressed, when the first thing used against a person is her gender.

Excuse 3. Misogynism is not only peddled by men, but also other women.

Abuse is abuse, wherever it comes from and whoever perpetrates it. When we speak of misogynism, gender violence, microaggressions, and the rest of the panoply of hate, we are not talking about the gender, sexuality, creed or race of the perpetrator, but the victim. The argument against hatred is about the act, whoever commits it. Those who hate could be of any gender, race, or religion, and the Law treats them with the same severity. And so should our society.

One cannot simply excuse anti-Semitism by citing self-hating Jews or (as some do) by pointing out at politicians who happen to be Jewish. Likewise, it is all too easy to try to get off the hook, by citing some “gay mafia” to excuse homophobia. Nor would so-called “colour-blind” arguments deal with racism, as if a crime committed by a person of colour would excuse a white person from being racist against non-white persons. There are histories and contexts to hatred, and indeed we need to understand them, but there is no excuse for hatred on the basis of difference.

As a male who often finds himself teaching or discussing feminist literature, I am always aware — and must always be conscious — of my being a “male (or masculine) subject” (to cite Luce Irigaray’s term) and being nurtured within a chauvinist and patriarchal culture like my peers. However, this will never excuse me from abdicating from my duties to contest and prevent gender-bias and more so, gender-violence. In being a male, I am all too more conscious of this responsibility, and I’d say even more than female subjects.

Excuse 4. The Law is strong enough to protect women.

Just over a year ago in this blog I asked: “why would a man who is found guilty of sexually abusing a vulnerable woman in his spiritual care over a period of time gets a three-month suspended jail term, while a woman who is evidently going through a hard time in her life and who finds herself resorting to alcohol, only to then jump naked in a rubbish truck and put her life at risk, gets a 10-month suspended jail term charged on offences related to public morals?”

It is time to start making a strong argument for laws that robustly and specifically address violence and hatred towards women

It is time to start making a strong argument for laws that robustly and specifically address violence and hatred towards women. Last Saturday’s murder is not just yet another murder that, somehow, we should “get used to”. Femicide is a murder that the Law needs to focus on because, as statistics and historical records show, it is not true that women tend to kill as many men in domestic violence as much as men kill women. In fact, the statistics show that women are less likely to murder their male spouse or partner.

The list of similar excuses is endless. But when it comes to violence against women our leaders, politicians, opinion makers and those in social and civic responsibility, need to categorically state that we cannot tolerate this anymore.

For males like myself who are often ashamed of our gender for so many transgressions against women, I would suggest that, paraphrasing the American Bishop John Selby Spong, we should look at the world through the eyes of our female loved ones.

Spong often speaks eloquently of how he looks at the world through the eyes of his own daughters. However, if in our engagement with the world through female eyes, it does not transpire to us that one femicide is too many, then something is tragically going amiss.

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