It is fair to say that it is difficult to imagine a worse way to start the new year. The news regarding Paulina Dembska’s femicide shook the island to its core, and with good reason. Hearing the awful happenings of an innocent woman who was out to feed some cats on a Sliema promenade is enough to make your heart sink, all the while your eyes are rolling in disgust at the aggressor. However, something even more appalling is the disheartening fact that this was the 28th recorded femicide in Malta since 1981. A statistic that certainly raises a few alarm bells.
This led me to engage in conversation about the tragedy, and listening to the experiences of others left me mute and shocked at times. Speechless of what women encounter and appalled at being oblivious that these incidents happen so often.
How come in an age when we boast greatly about our advances in social and gender equality, we have individuals totally unaware of the harsh realities that women go through every day?
How come we still have individuals who are totally unaware of the harsh realities that women go through every day?
What can be done to tackle such issues?
It is best to start with these harsh realities. From the statistic mentioned above, Paulina Dembska’s death defers from the rest. It is even more alarming than others since it was the only femicide where a total stranger killed a woman. Stories like these tend to lead to an environment where citizens and residents feel uncomfortable, or even worse, threatened.
With anxiety becoming ever-present in society, this should be pushed higher up in the agenda of issues needing tackling.
Why is it that in the year 2022 it is still considered “normal” for some women to feel the need to be accompanied to be safe? Why should they be told to consider carrying some “weapon” because of the trauma that they might be attacked in the manner reported in the media? Not to mention the amounts of sexism like catcalling, glorification of idealistic feminine mannerisms in terms of behaviour, and misogyny which still forms part of society as we know it.
It has never been clearer. We are in desperate need of a culture change. How is it that basic societal etiquette is not being thought? The rudimentary debate between “Protect your daughter” and “Educate your son” has become heavily outdated. It should be the whole of society that we are looking to educate, and these lessons shouldn’t only be the responsibility of parents and guardians to deliver them.
It has never been clearer. We are in desperate need of a culture change.
We must look at our education institutions and what they can do to help eradicate these problems. After all, they help mould young children into the next generation’s young adults. I, for one, feel incredibly disappointed in the system of which I am an output, that it has taken such a heart-breaking event to give me a reality check on how dire the situation can get.
There is plenty to do. The best way to start is by acknowledging these issues and combining experiences from people who suffered through these encounters, with lessons on using the correct language, and on personal space.
Let me be blunt. This is something that should work both ways. Hence, as much as men are educated on issues women come across in everyday life, so should women learn about the problems men might face in society. Of course, women come across more societal issues because of the patriarchal structure of our society.
Hence, this will allow us to break the chain finally. The more we are encouraged to understand each other’s fears and issues, the more we progress as a society. I believe this is true equality – people who are respectful of one another and who learn about how to make other people feel comfortable living in our communities.
You may describe it as idealistic, but I genuinely believe that it is the minimum we can hope to achieve, given this country’s positive track record in tackling diversity issues.
Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen fast.
IN MEMORY OF PAULINA DEMBSKA