Protestors gathered in front of the police headquarters on Saturday morning to voice their anger and frustration at the mistreatment of women in Maltese society. 

The protest, titled Għajjejt u Xbajt [Sick and tired], was called by women's rights activists in reaction to the police's handling of the murder investigation of 29-year-old Paulina Dembska. 

Organisations that took part in the protest are demanding more accountability from state institutions, including the law courts.

They cited lengthy court proceedings, a failure to effectively protect female victims of violence and the tolerance of sexist attitudes as key issues that must be addressed.

They noted that victims of harassment, assault and rape were often not taken seriously, resulting in low reporting numbers.

A key factor in their demands is for a greater emphasis in tackling “misogyny and the patriarchy” in schools and on the media, with activists calling for sexuality and relationship guidelines to be reviewed to emphasise the importance of equality and consent.

Lastly, they said that society must stop blaming victims for their own abuse. 

“Society is duty-bound to protect victims and to ensure that the actions of their perpetrators are taken seriously by the justice system. This needs to be reflected both in court proceedings and in the sentences meted out.”

Dembska, a Polish student, was raped and killed on January 2. Her murder has shocked the nation and triggered an outpouring of grief and anger. 

Police have said that the killing was not gender-related, as the alleged murderer, Abner Aquilina, had assaulted two men a short while before allegedly killing Dembska.

But activists have pushed back at that argument and insisted that Dembska's murder was nevertheless a femicide - meaning she was killed because she was a woman.  

Protest in the rain

Braving the rain outside the police headquarters in Floriana, activists argued that there is a deeper malaise of disrespect and discrimination against women at multiple levels of society.

They said they were “sick and tired” of hearing of cases of domestic violence and rape against women that reflect a “patriarchal and misogynistic society”. 

A group of women performed a spoken word dance highlighting how women who end up victims to violence are often blamed for their plight and that institutions did little to bring them justice.

‘Something is broken’: Marceline Naudi

Academic and activist Marceline Naudi said that something “was clearly broken in society”, as despite efforts to tackle the issue of violence against women with changes in legislation, social policy, public services and NGO’s, violence is still occurring and activists still find themselves taking to the streets demanding answers. 

Marceline Naudi speaks at the protest. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

She said it was time for stakeholders to put differences aside and work together to find a solution. 

“Instead of allowing aggression to rise between us we should try to search for more goodwill because I believe that no one enjoys nor wishes the tragedy of femicide to occur,” she said.    

‘This is not about blaming all men’: James Buhagiar

Representing the organisation Men Against Violence, James Buhagiar said more men needed to speak up when faced with violence and inequality. 

“Paulina’s tragic brutal murder is a gender-based crime. Police investigators may think otherwise, however, this femicide and others preceding it, are serious matters and certainly don't fit in the picture that ‘Malta is still a safe place,” Buhagiar said. 

“Recognising that Paulina’s murder was femicide, and recognising that gender inequality exists, has nothing to do with collectively blaming men for what happened.”

Photo: Chris Sant FournierPhoto: Chris Sant Fournier

He added that the fight against structured inequality was not one that women should fight alone. 

“There are good men out there. We need more good men to speak up. We need more men to call out sexism. We need all men to call out sexist behaviour. We need more men to call out sexual harassment. We need men to call out other violent men. One way that change starts is when more men engage,” he said. 

‘Education has a part to play’: Amanda Cossai

Malta Gay Rights Movement activist Amanda Cossai said that society placed the blame and burden on women to protect themselves from the aggression of others. 

“They tell us ‘don’t go out in the dark’, ‘don’t go to places by yourself,' ‘don’t drink too much’. We have half the population on alert and in fear when walking in the street by themselves,” she said. 

Photo: Chris Sant FournierPhoto: Chris Sant Fournier

“Almost every woman has had a negative experience in this context and it leads to a loss of liberty. 

Reform in sexual education is needed, she said, to counteract the fact that children are growing up online and forming mistaken ideas on the subject from the wrong source. Education on LGBTIQ identities should also be strengthened. 

'We are tired of being angry': Lara Dimitrijevic

Lawyer and activist Lara Dimitrijevic said that the reality of the situation is that women are being murdered and are disproportionately the victims of violence.

“We are often ridiculed, belittled and told that this is a lie. But facts and statistics reveal the truth. The lives of Paulina and many others were taken away for no reason, simply because their killers felt they had the power and the right to take away their lives,” she said.

“It’s time for authorities to stop shifting the blame and take serious accountability. We cannot keep hearing of more tragedy, rape and terror on women and girls in this country.” 

She said the time for short term measures was over.

“I understand that the police don’t have enough staff and cannot keep up. But the lack of adequate resources can never be acceptable,” she continued.

The pandemic of violence in the country was every politicians' collective responsibility and questioned whether aggressors having been victims of abuse themselves can ever justify them taking the life of another person.

“Women don’t hate men nor do we hate these institutions, but we are tired of being angry and repeating the same things to no avail,” she said. 

“It’s time to sit down and work on this together, because it’s the only way to defeat this societal pandemic.” 


‘More accountability needed’ 


In a joint statement, the participating organisation demanded that authorities be held accountable and that they had had enough of hearing about the failures of the system. Lengthy court proceedings, failure of effective protection and tolerance of sexist attitudes towards women must be addressed and society, as well as politicians and authorities, must assume responsibility for it. 

Concrete action to address misogyny and the patriarchy must move beyond rhetoric and legal mechanisms and be addressed practically at all levels of society, particularly at schools and on the media, they said. 

Sexuality and relationship guidelines must also be reviewed to focus on consent and equality at their core. Authorities should show political will to do this and committ to reform. 

They also added that victims of harassment, assault and rape must be taken more seriously. It is useless to claim, activists said, that victims do not report when they are more likely to fo so if they trust the police and justice system and no they will be taken seriously. 

Lastly, they said that society must stop blaming victims for their own abuse. 

“We need to recognise victims as victims and not put the blame on them for being in a particular place, for what they were wearing, for not reporting earlier and so on,” they said. 

“Society is duty-bound to protect victims and to ensure that the actions of their perpetrators are taken seriously by the justice system. This needs to be reflected both in court proceedings and in the sentences meted out.”

The protest was endorsed by Moviment Graffitti, Women’s Rights Foundation, MGRM, Young Progressive Beings, Doctors for Choice Malta, Integra Foundation, aditus Foundation, YMCA Malta, Men Against Violence, Għajjejt u Xbajt, The Malta Women’s Lobby, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, Migrant Women Association Malta and Women for Women Foundation. 


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