The European Parliament Information Office in Malta and the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organisation (MCWO) organised a public dialogue entitled ‘Empowering Women against Violence’ on Friday 30th March. The aim of this dialogue was to raise awareness on domestic violence, which is a long-standing threat that is persisting across Europe.
The President of European Parliament Women’s Lobby group, Brigitte Triems, the keynote speaker of the event, argued that the current economic crisis was exacerbating domestic violence and social inequalities. There were still a high number of domestic violence cases, with one out of five European women being victims.
Ms Triems emphasized the importance of raising awareness and enhancing financial resources to effectively combat violence by making reference to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, which is not yet ratified by all member states.
The emotional experience of two survivors of domestic violence shared during the event underscored that violence did not depend on the character of the victim. While sharing the fear and the suffering endured in their previous situations, the survivors recounted how difficult it was to pluck up courage to get themselves and their children out of the situation. They spoke of major obstacles which victims of violence, especially women, encounter when they decide to seek help, ranging from the lukewarm response from some members of the police when filing a report to practical difficulties such as employment opportunities, access to housing, schooling and maintenance of children. They said children in households where abuse was happening also faced trauma and needed special help.
Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Michael Cassar, took note of the respective cases mentioned while highlighting the principal role of the Vice Squad in combating domestic violence and assisting victims. He argued perpetrators of domestic violence were primarily criminals who should be brought to justice.
Dr Marceline Naudi, representing the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Malta, noted the discrepancy between what should happen in principle and what effectively happens in practice. She emphasized that the four-day period prescribed by the law for alleged perpetrators to appear in court was not being respected by legal practitioners. “Effective action needs to be taken against the perpetrator. When necessary, they should be helped,” she said.
Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation for Social Welfare Service, Ms Sina Bugeja, spoke about sensitising front liners such as legal practitioners, legislators, social providers and the police force, who she advocated must work towards adopting a harmonised approach. She also called for specialised training of cadets on how to treat domestic violence reports with further periodic assessments.
Dr Roberta Lepre, Director of Victim Support Malta, an NGO, pointed out that there was an increasingly alarming figure of domestic violence cases. She commended the proposal for an EU Directive which addresses the duty of states to ensure that victims receive support. Whilst commenting that Malta does have the legal means to combat domestic violence, in reality, she noted, provisions were not being implemented.
Ms Joanna Xuereb, Chairperson of the Commission on Domestic Violence, stated: “We need to make sure that victims of domestic violence are given support from all organisations, but we also have to work on prevention”.
Closing off the panel discussion, Mr Massimo Farrugia, Acting Head of the European Parliament Office in Malta, expressed his satisfaction at the frankness felt throughout the public dialogue and commended the participation and activism of the participants. He also made reference to the proposed EU Directive on gender-based violence drafted by the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee and welcomed such fora as examples of disseminating information and raising awareness of social issues that impact people’s daily life.
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