My last column of 2017 was dedicated to Daphne Caruana Galizia, Woman of that Year. This year I bow to the women who stepped up in the wake of her assassination. The women of Occupy Justice filled the gap made by the political leadership of this country, almost in its entirety. They joined others like the women of Il-Kenniesa and other civil society leaders who had been campaigning for change to a stagnated society possessed by corrupt power.

Politicians failed to grasp the significance of what had just occurred: that this was not merely the work of criminals ridding themselves of a pesky journalist, one who had made herself a nuisance on so many fronts they thought no one would really mourn her.

One of their very first calls was for the resignation of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General. Theirs was neither some desperate need for scapegoating, nor was it fuelled by some personal animosity for the incumbents.

These leaders of civil society realised early on that the appointed gate-keepers for truth and justice were compromised by design.

The Attorney General was institutionally paralysed by his double role of prosecutor and counsel to the prime suspects. And personally, Peter Grech showed how he would manage that paralysis when for months and years he preferred to ignore the facts the FIAU – which he chairs – was discovering about his clients: Minister Konrad Mizzi and de-facto prime minister Keith Schembri.

The Police Commissioner was paralysed by being only the latest in a revolving door search for the most appeasing appointment, and by being an appointee of one of the prime suspects.

With the best will in the world – and it is not a given that Lawrence Cutajar has any good will to expend on matters affecting his beloved Prime Minister – the Police Commissioner could not be expected to do in this case what he had not done when Daphne Caruana Galizia was still alive and exposing a major scandal, as he watched Inter playing football on the screen of a roadside diner unperturbed.

Now, a year later, the Prime Mi­nister is having to acknowledge the campaign of Occupy Justice, albeit reluctantly. He has painted himself into a corner and has been played by some very smart women. The matters they raised caught the attention of the Council of Europe, and it expressed concern that Malta’s institutions were entirely inadequate to deal with a case of such import.

That is when, over the objections of government representatives at the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission was brought in. That is when the government realised the state of affairs could prove embarrassing. They chased the Council of Europe’s request with one of their own, pretending to the world they had proactively invited over the Venice Commission.

Now Joseph Muscat can no lon­ger afford to ignore the call for the reform of the roles of Attorney General and Police Commissioner. He has been forced to promise to make the changes that Occupy Justice demanded within days of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s killing.

They were called names. They were mocked. They were harassed in the street. They were physically assaulted.

Twelve months ago the Prime Minister met with a delegation from Occupy Justice only to tell them why he would not consider the reforms they were asking for. Now his hand has been forced by the Venice Commission’s declaration that the current state of affairs means Malta is a democracy in name only.

Joseph Muscat has been forced to promise to make the changes that Occupy Justice demanded within days of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s killing

Like Daphne Caruana Galizia, the women of Occupy Justice have fought without any reason to hope for victory. They have been passionate, assured and uncompromising on matters of great import to our democracy.

And though they may not realise it yet, during 2018 they secured a great victory for civil society: unprecedented in our history since Independence.

Because they forced Muscat to promise reforms he has spent years denying were even needed. And they have done this without the need to curry favour with a party in Opposition to be able to make their case.

Indeed, quite ironically, Occupy Justice won its ground in spite of the Opposition, not because of it. They came into existence when they watched the men leading both sides of the House of Parliament failing to grasp the significance of Daphne’s assassination.

Like Daphne Caruana Galizia before them, they showed that real feminists do not need to use the label to explain themselves, be­cause they do not demand rights to be handed down with magnanimity from men. They do not seek gender quotas and collaborate in gerrymandering schemes de­signed to retain the status quo whilst beautifying it with image-conscious hostesses.

Rights are not given. They are claimed. They are grasped from the hands of the powerful. The women of Occupy Justice did not bargain or negotiate. They were not satisfied with the kind of equality where rights were denied to all. They claimed the right to justice, to truth, to free speech, to life, to freedoms for all, trampled as they were by a male-dominated political class that handed down rights as rewards for loyalty.

There are exceptions of course. Marlene Farrugia should be included in this list of Women of the Year. She is not a civil society activist, but standing in Parliament to face the mockery of those across from her and those sitting next to her, she too has demonstrated uncompromising courage that is now being vindicated by a Prime Minister trapped in the web he set for others.

Claudette Buttigieg has also been a commanding figure in the Deputy Speaker’s chair, willing to use her constitutional role to stand up to the bullying and intimidation of the uncouth, blaspheming agents of Muscat’s State. She called them out and threw them out.

The Venice Commission now says those bullies’ employment by the government is illegal. The Prime Minister is now reluctantly promi­sing to fire them. Though only im­plicitly and perhaps unwittingly.

And then outside Parliament, but right there with the Women of the Year, Caroline Muscat stepped up to reinvent journalism, to de­part from the conventional media of blind neutrality and bland impartiality that political parties have mastered to their advantage. Instead her The Shift News, loyal only to the truth, declared its own agenda: civic rights, public propriety, decency in community life.

And last but not least, Daphne’s relatives, the ones who have suffered most and yet fight on most bravely: Daphne’s mother Rose, her sisters Corinne, Helene and Mandy, and her nieces Megan and Amy.

They have not merely stood by the men in Daphne’s life. They have led their own fight, for truth, for justice, and for the basic rights of all of us.

None of these women are ending 2018 wholly victorious. None of them for a moment think their work is done, and that the people who have so wilfully exploited and manipulated the present Constitution and exceeded the powers granted to them, can be trusted to rewrite it in a way that will curb their worst excesses.

No one thinks these men, compromised and corrupt, will gladly hand over the power they have accumulated.

And so it is that, in 2019, Malta will need the women of 2018 more than ever before.

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