The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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White Ribbon Day

Malta Independent Sunday, 24 November 2013, 10:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

Tomorrow, the world commemorates the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Also known as White Ribbon Day, it is a day for solidarity with female victims of domestic violence, a pervasive and often silent form of abuse – silent for the simple reason that so many women still suffer every day in silence, trapped in a way of life that demeans their very existence.

The day is about those women who yearn not for a boardroom position but to merely be in a position in which abuse in all its heinous forms – physical, psychological and emotional – is no longer the order of each and every day.

Tragically, there are so many voiceless women who simply settle for such treatment because they do not know any different. They resign themselves to their fate because they have seen such behaviour handed down from generation to generation. But this generation, with the heightened awareness that this day and age provides, must be the generation in which this is all brought to an abrupt end.

What of those women who, despite finding the inner strength to press charges against an abusive husband, find little justice from the courts, which have been shown, time and time again, as being inexplicably reluctant to order an abusive husband out of the matrimonial home, and who then become entangled in years of legal proceedings? What of the country’s laws that condone corporal punishment, which mean that a mother can only look on helplessly as their children are slapped, punched and kicked? What of those women who finally manage to summon the courage to report their abusive spouses, but whose reports are buried in an ever-growing stack of ‘domestic disturbance’ reports?

Recent research has revealed that at least one in four Maltese women have experienced violence at least once in their lives, and that at least half of those have suffered sustained abuse. But, gladly, reports of domestic abuse appear to have been coming more to the fore lately. And the reason for this is simple: women are becoming more empowered – more empowered to no longer tolerate that kind of treatment from their spouses or partners, and more empowered to stand up to their abusers.

But they must become more empowered still, to nip the problem in the bud, to call it quits when verbal abuse begins or when it turns physical. Men in these situations must also learn that it takes a man to admit they have a problem and to seek help.  And spotting that problem is equally simple: if you abuse anyone on any level, you have a problem – plain and simple.

The Council of Europe's Convention on Violence against Women came into force in 2011 after it was passed in a landmark vote. The Convention is legally binding in the Council of Europe’s member states, Malta included, and creates an all-inclusive legal framework to prevent domestic violence and violence against women, to protect victims and to put an end to perpetrators’ impunity. It defines and criminalizes a number of forms of violence against women and provides for the setting up of an international group of independent experts to monitor its implementation at the national level.

The relatively recent introduction of divorce legislation has provided a ray of hope for many women who have found themselves in such circumstances. Many more abused women now know that they are not chained for life to an abuser, that there is a way out, and that the state can no longer force that woman to remain in that relationship, unable to close that nasty chapter of their lives and turn over a new leaf.

That legal instrument is now, thankfully, available to them and, perhaps more than that, the focus on domestic violence in the divorce referendum campaigns – to varying extents and ends – raised a great deal of awareness. The referendum’s result should have also delivered them a sense of empowerment with which to drag themselves out of the domestic quagmire they have found themselves in after having simply been guilty of nothing more than having chosen the wrong partner in life.

But more, much more, needs to be done. 

And our message for tomorrow is a call for more women to take control of their own lives, to take action, to shake off the shackles of a life of abuse, and to stand up for their rights by taking concrete action to end the abuse.

As is reported in today’s issue, the Appogg Agency’s Domestic Violence Services worked with 423 cases of domestic abuse in the first six months of this year. Ghabex, the Agency’s emergency shelter for female victims of domestic violence, also dealt with 37 cases. The Agency’s Perpetrator’s Service worked with 78 more cases during the same period.

Many women in such seemingly hopeless positions do not know that help, in the form of Agenzija Appogg and its 179 helpline, is out there and that all they have to do is pick up the phone and ask for it.

Those women who are suffering need to give themselves a voice. And the best thing that women in such circumstances can do for themselves would be to make that call, to ask for the help they so direly need to break free from their life of fear.

179 is more than a helpline, it is a lifeline: use it or convince someone who needs to use it to do so.

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