Equality and fairness in society is a goal declared by the vast majority of countries on a worldwide basis. Specific international conventions have been signed and ratified by the majority of states to endorse this objective. One of these international instruments is the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Malta ratified the CEDAW way back in 1991 and in so doing committed itself to implement its provisions to bring about full equality between women and men in Maltese society.

Violence against women is one of the various areas of concern addressed by this convention. This fundamental violation of women’s rights remains widespread, affecting all countries. The United Nations defines violence against women as a structural phenomenon caused by the historical imbalance of power between women and men in society. Moreover, the 1995 UN Beijing Platform for Action states “violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The long-standing failure to protect and promote those rights and freedoms in the case of violence against women is a matter of concern to all states and should be addressed”. Women need strong laws, backed by implementation and services for protection and prevention.

Research commissioned by the Commission on Domestic Violence (CDV) found that in Malta one in four women reported having experienced violence at least once during their lifetime. Half of these reported that this was still going on during the year the survey was undertaken.

In order to create greater awareness on the need to condemn domestic violence and to encourage victims living in such situations to seek help, the CDV undertook a project entitled ESF 3.43 – Dignity for Domestic Violence Survivors that is partly financed by the European Social Funds (www.domesticviolence.gov.mt). It is important that society is aware of what domestic violence is, its consequences and where and to whom to turn to when faced with such abusive behaviour.

Prevention is only one aspect of dealing with domestic violence. It forms part of an overall policy framework incorporating a national action plan that is the basis of addressing this phenomenon. The plan should contain vital information, detailed and clearly expressed, including a clear definition of domestic violence. The 2006 Domestic Violence Act defines domestic violence as “any act of violence, even if only verbal, perpetrated by a household member upon another household member and includes any omission which causes physical or moral harm to the other”.

This Act also provides for a designated agency “responsible for the provision of preventive, therapeutic and, or treatment programmes for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence”. This agency is Aġenzija Appoġġ that provides a number of services for the family including a domestic violence unit as well as children’s services.

In order to be accessible at all times to victims in need of help, Aġenzija Appoġġ has the support line 179 that is open to the public 24/7. This is the number the ESF publicity campaign continues to highlight in its drive to encourage victims of domestic violence to seek help. Once contact has been made with Aġenzija Appoġġ, victims will have access to professional assistance to help them regain their self-esteem and self-confidence with the long-term aim of starting a new life for themselves and their children according to their aspirations.

Women who experienced living in abusive relationships tell how they were unaware that there is help out there within the community. They recount the positive experiences and support they found in shelters that helped them face reality and take the necessary action to move away from abuse and violence and lead a peaceful life.

Some women have even become financially independent after many years out of the labour market through training opportunities offered by the Employment and Training Corporation. This financial independence has empowered women to take control over their lives and build new relationships on a more equal footing with their partners.

Equality and fairness are not just words banded about in official documents and at international fora. These principles can be turned into reality through the establishment of effective tools and structures to deal with domestic violence in our society in order to eradicate it once and for all. However, positive results can only be obtained when women speak up and seek help.

So pick up that phone now, dial 179 and find yourself a new life away from abuse and violence.

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