The year 2022 started off with the chilling murder of Paulina Dembska, a Polish student who was studying in Malta. A murder that shook our nation, a murder that shook us men and women to the core. Paulina, victim of a senseless crime; a victim of a crime that happens far too often; a victim of femicide.

Paulina, a gentle person, a cat lover and a doer who loved our country dearly and who wanted in her own way to contribute towards our community. On a crisp Sunday morning, just before sunrise, Paulina was feeding a colony of stray cats in Independence Garden, Sliema. Part of her daily routine. No one could ever fathom what was going to happen, just one day after the celebration of this new year.

Her life came to a sudden and violent end. 

Paulina was brutally attacked, raped and murdered simply because she was a woman. Sources indicate that the investigators were finding it difficult to link the alleged killer with the victim. Various theories have been put forward but the randomness of the killing remains high on the agenda. Clearly, this lack of any apparent nexus could easily imply that each and every woman could have been Paulina. A young life has been lost and a family has been shattered.

The truth of it all is that her murder has reminded us of the realities that exist around us. Femicide is one of the most brutal forms of gender-based violence. And, yes, Malta is no exception. This needs to be nationally addressed as soon as possible.

The World Health Organisation states that “Violence against women comprises a wide range of acts, from verbal harassment and other forms of emotional abuse, to daily physical or sexual abuse. At the far end of the spectrum is femicide: the murder of a woman.”

Since 2000, there were 27 femicides in Malta: in 2001, Vanessa Grech and daughter, Ailey; in 2002, Rachel Muscat and Pauline Tanti; in 2003, Josette Scicluna; in 2004, Patricia Attard; in 2008, Charlene Farrugia; in 2009, Lyudmila Nykytiuk, Theresa Vella and Catherine Agius; in 2010, Christine Sammut; in 2011,  Irena Abadzhieva and Karen Cheatle; in 2012, Yvette Gajda, Margaret Mifsud and Meryem Bugeja, who was pregnant with twins; in 2015, Silvana Muscat; in 2016,  Caroline Magri and Eleanor Mangion; in 2018, Maria Carmela Fenech, Antonia Micallef, Shannon Mak and Lourdes Agius; in 2019, Marija Lourdes Bonnici and Angele Bonnici; in 2020, Chantelle Chetcuti and, now,  Paulina . Let us remember their names.

Women – our mothers, daughters, sisters, friends – feel unsafe, anxious and unprotected

In Europe, the annual rate of femicide is 0.4 victims for every 100,000 women. In France, during the first day of this calendar year, three femicides were reported. One hundred and thirteen women were murdered in 2021 alone. In Spain, 43 femicides occurred during 2021. In Germany, 139 femicides took place in 2020 and, in England and Wales, there were 188 femicides in the year ending March 2020. Almost half of these femicide victims were murdered in a domestic violence situation.

The Malta Women’s Right foundation is calling on the authorities, policymakers, politicians and the judicial system to take this deeply concerning phenomenon more seriously and to assume responsibility for eliminating it. The current laws on gender-based violence do not fully protect our women from their predators and their aggressors. And, because of this, women – our mothers, daughters, sisters, friends – feel unsafe, anxious and unprotected.

Laws must be reinforced or changed for the better to safeguard the victims. The system must not fail in protecting its citizens. Serious discussions must follow suit and, in a short period of time, establish a clear actionable plan for our country.

Education must play a very important part to put an end to this unacceptable situation. Changing stereotypes, attitudes and behaviours is a huge task. We shouldn’t be deterred by this.

We must invest in the education of our children, making them understand, from a young age, that men and women are simply… equal. Only then can we eventually start to see changes in the way men and women treat one another.  

The issue of gender-based violence needs to be addressed by the state with utmost importance and urgency. Gender-based violence is a plague which only we can end. Everyone is human. And everyone is equal. Let us call for an action plan for a start.

In honour and memory of all the women who are victims of femicide.

Julie Zahra and Jerome Caruana Cilia, PN candidates

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