The Malta Independent 22 January 2021, Friday

Violence against women and domestic violence in Malta: GREVIO calls for stronger gender perspective

Monday, 23 November 2020, 10:48 Last update: about 3 months ago

In its first baseline evaluation report published on Malta’s implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the “Istanbul Convention”, the Group of Experts (GREVIO) emphasised a number of positive legal and policy measures that have been taken by the authorities, but also highlighted the need to introduce serious improvements in training and in other instances.

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With the adoption of “Society’s Concern, Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Strategy and Action Plan” (the strategy and action plan), Grevio said that Malta has broadened its policies to address other forms of violence against women, beyond domestic violence.

“With the entry into force of the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Act, the former Commission on Domestic Violence has been transformed into a Commission on Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence (CGBVD) and its mandate has been strengthened and widened.”

The CGBVDV is praised in the report for being a fully institutionalised entity with legal personality and dedicated financial and human resources, as well as for having a diverse membership. “A number of laws have also been amended to bring them in line with the convention.”

The report also notes the authorities’ efforts to run an increasing number of awareness raising campaigns since the entry into force of the convention and the important steps taken towards the implementation of its Article 14 in the area of education. “Teaching material on issues such as equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, sexual education, and to a certain extent, domestic violence are, in fact, included in the mandatory national curriculum starting primary school.”

Nevertheless, GREVIO has observed several issues where urgent improvement is warranted to reach higher levels of compliance with the requirements of the convention.

“While, in principle, Malta has broadened its policies to address other forms of violence against women beyond domestic violence, on the side of implementation the strategy and action plan fails to provide for specific integrated measures to tackle harmful forms of violence against women other than domestic violence. Moreover, Malta has adopted a gender-neutral approach to violence against women. Throughout the strategy and in legislation, the authorities have opted to employ the term gender-based violence instead of violence against women to ensure that all experiences of violence in intimate relationships, including that experienced by men and boys (including GBTIQ) are addressed.”

The report welcomes the will to address all experiences of violence in intimate relationships but stresses that it is of paramount importance that the different forms of violence against women are addressed as a gendered phenomenon because they affect women disproportionately. “These forms of violence are directed against a woman because she is a woman and thus need to be understood as a social mechanism to keep women in a subordinate position to men.”

The report also points to minimal initial training as regards domestic violence and no initial training with regards to other forms of violence against women across all the professions involved in preventing and combating violence against women. “In-service training is also primarily carried out on a voluntary basis and is sporadic. The insufficient training has serious ramifications, particularly in the criminal justice system. Police officers who routinely receive reports or respond to callouts are not trained on the dynamics of domestic violence, nor on the gendered aspect of such violence, its risk factors and the need to ensure victim protection. This leads to the phenomenon of dual reporting, alleged refusals to receive reports, interviewing the victims in an insensitive manner, lack of recording of patterns of abuse, barriers to reporting for particularly vulnerable categories of women and insufficient and ineffective collection of evidence in cases of rape and domestic violence,” the statement read.

Similarly, the report notes the little sensitivity of judges, leading to repeat victimisation and low levels of prosecutions and convictions. “Moreover, judges appear to have inadequate understanding of the change in paradigm in proving rape, of the role and importance of emergency barring orders and protection orders in breaking the cycle of violence in cases of domestic violence, as well as of the role and importance of referring perpetrators to domestic violence programmes.”

“Numerous shortcomings are also identified in the way that immediate support services for victims of sexual violence are currently administered because they lead, in most cases, to secondary victimisation and because of the serious risks of loss of evidence due to the long waiting time required for the victim to be visited and the evidence to be lifted,” the statement added.

Victims of domestic violence wishing to separate are often required to undergo mediation. “Due to their vulnerability stemming from the power imbalance that is typical in cases of domestic violence, victims are thus unlikely to be able to negotiate and reach an acceptable agreement that ensures the children’s and the mother’s safety, the statement read. “The report also highlights that in cases of domestic violence, courts privilege granting shared custody and visitation rights to perpetrators, often through supervised access visits, with supervisors who are mostly untrained to work with perpetrators and on violence against women.”

In the area of asylum, the report notes that there are no procedures in place to identify vulnerable individuals rescued at sea upon their arrival. “Where identification of vulnerable individuals does take place, it does not lead necessarily to their swift release from detention, owing to lack of space in open centres or other alternatives to detention. Moreover, recent over-crowding in closed, as well as open reception facilities has led to mixed-sex accommodation.

Furthermore, the report, worryingly describes practices of abandoning search and rescue operations together with the closure of Maltese ports to boats carrying rescued migrants, which pose a serious risk of refoulement of women asylum seekers who are victims of gender-based violence. The practice of relinquishing responsibility for search and rescue operations to authorities who are unwilling or unable to protect rescued migrants or are in a state of civil war is also described and criticised,” the statement concluded.

 

Government reaction

Justice and equality minister Edward Zammit Lewis and reforms parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar said they welcomed the evaluation report, adding that the government has taken important measures in order for this Convention to be implemented.

The Commission on Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence, as the coordinating body, is committed to ensure that the recommendations put forward by the GREVIO team are in line with the Government’s policy objectives in the field of Gender-based violence (GBV) and domestic violence (DV).

Zammit Lewis said, “all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender and identity, should be given the same legal guarantees against violence”.

It is “pivotal” to ensure that any professionals who provide assistance to GBV or DV victims are provided with the necessary tools and training to deal with the cases at hand – this includes legal professionals and members sitting on the judicial bench, he continued.

“No person should be left behind, and no one should fall within any lacunae of our legal system. The protection of victims and their children is a priority of this Government, consequently all legal avenues to safeguard those in need will be explored.”

PS Cutajar said that, while in most cases the victims are women, it is important not to forget that men can also be victims of such crime. This form of abuse is also experienced by same-sex couples and the elderly within our society, she said.

She emphasized the importance of educational campaigns aimed at raising awareness in our society on par with continuous training for all those who in one way or another assist victims of gender-based violence and domestic violence.

 

 

 

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