We marched, now what? - Josianne Cutajar

We marched, now what? - Josianne Cutajar

As the year draws to a close, these final weeks are the perfect period to reflect on the events and actions that left a mark on us these past 12 months.

Undoubtedly, one of the events that remains imprinted in my mind is the march against femicide, which took place in September.

Women and men from all walks of life joined forces to speak out for those who have been left voiceless by violence. It was an event that showed resilience and defiance in the face of hate and I was honoured and proud to be part of it.

Femicide and domestic violence are not a strictly Maltese problem, nor are they a modern issue. There have been victims of violence in almost every community or society, so much so that, in some cultures, it has been normalised and is almost expected.

We see traces of this mentality in the comments that inevitably surface after every murder – four this year alone – questioning the victim’s behaviour, as if that could possibly justify the murderer’s act.

These comments question the victim’s actions, doubt her story and completely ignore the state of vulnerability that victims find themselves in.

The fact that the fault is placed on the victim, instead of the perpetrator, is very telling of our collective mentality. It dehumanises and isolates the victim, which, in turn, victimises the individual once more.

Last September’s march was a clear attempt to change this line of thought.

We need to make sure laws and policies are truly felt by those who need them most

However, this was not the first march organised for the same purpose. Now that the dust has settled, now that news portals have moved on, what is being done to prevent yet another murder? A march is primarily symbolic but it also seeks real, tangible change. So where do we go from here?

In May, the government enacted a strong set of laws that made drastic changes to the legislative framework tackling domestic and gender-based violence, including femicide. This update was long overdue and signified a considerable improvement in the sector. Penalties have been made harsher, reflecting the severity of the crimes. Measures have been put in place to protect the victim and prevent further harm.

Malta is now fully in line with the Istanbul Convention, and, on paper, our legislation is now an excellent aid for victims of violence. So why are these murders still happening? Why are there still thousands of victims suffering behind closed doors?

The fact that we had to march once again, the fact that another family has been irreparably shattered and that another life has been lost shows that our work is far from done. We need to double our efforts on the ground and make radical changes in our collective perspective.

Here, education is key. Instead of conditioning girls to live their lives in fear, we should be teaching boys that violence is unacceptable under any circumstance.

We need to categorically shift the blame from the victim onto the perpetrator, who should squarely suffer the consequences of his own actions.

The structures are in place. The policies have been enacted and are a modern reflection of society’s needs. The government now needs to put its money where its mouth is and invest heavily in the institutions responsible for enforcing these laws and policies.

We need more trained professionals to work with both victims and perpetrators to prevent more violence and we need to make sure that these professionals are supported, both financially and psychologically. In short, we need to make sure that the laws and policies are truly felt by those who need them most.

I do not want to attend another march, not because I do not support the message or the event in itself but, rather, because I do not want more appalling murders occurring in our homes. I do not want Maltese society to need another march!

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour candidate for the European elections.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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