Guest Post This Is Why Malta Needs A Reclaim The Night March

December 1, 2022 at 6:05 pm

Reclaim The Night was a march that started in 1977 in the UK to demand that women are able to move freely and safely in the night in public spaces. Why is it that 45 years later, the need to Reclaim The Night remains as relevant as ever, both in Malta and abroad?

For one thing, the United Nations reports that “6 in 10 [women feel] that sexual harassment in public spaces has worsened”.

This violence isn’t limited to public spaces and the same study reports that “7 in 10 women said they think that verbal or physical abuse by a partner has become more common“.

Experiences that women have been sharing with Moviment Graffitti as part of the activities being organised around 25th November – the International Day for the Elmination of Violence Against Women – speak of a horrific reality where women experience violence at all ages.

“I was sexually abused multiple times along 3 years by my brother. I was 6 years old.”

“I was 25 years old. Living in Galway, Ireland, riding on a night bus to Dublin.”

“I was sixteen years when my so called boyfriend of 27 years old got me pregnant.”

“Hitting puberty was probably the worst time when it came to harassment.”

They experience it in all sorts of situations, be it at home, out alone, out with friends or at work:

“My friends and coworkers constantly grab my waist when they’re trying to go around me. They don’t do the same to the male friends/coworkers.”

“I was with a friend in a garden in Valletta. It was dark, around 8pm.”

“I was in a taxi and the taxi driver came at the back of the car and tried to touch me.”

“I am a French student doing an internship here in Malta.”

Violence against women encompasses not only rape, femicide and human trafficking, but also street harassment, cyber harassment, psychological abuse and unwanted sexual advances. Stopping this violence starts by (but doesn’t stop at) believing women when they share their experiences. This is especially important as women’s realities are repeatedly undermined and questioned.

“When I told my mum, she told me it’s your fault for not reacting.”

“They rolled their eyes at me when they saw shock on my face.”

“My dad to this day (some 10+ years), still does not believe me, and instead shames me for not talking to said brother and thinks I am making ‘a big deal out of nothing’ and ‘if it’s really true what you’re saying heq, forget it and move on so we can be a family’.”

“The police thought I was joking.”

Why is it so difficult to believe women? Maybe it’s because most of us don’t think we’re surrounded by men who could inflict violence on women.

As Rebecca, one of the women sharing her story with Moviment Graffitti, said in ‘A letter to my rapist’: “Dear John, You are tall, handsome, educated, successful, generous to friends and the apple of your mother’s eye. You stop to check up on your elderly neighbours, drop everything to help a loved one in need, publicly proclaim to support women’s rights and consider yourself a proud feminist. When I was 19, you drugged and raped me.”

An EU-wide study from a few years back shows that 47% of Maltese people think women often exaggerate or make up claims of abuse or rape, compared to the EU average of 21%. Why do we question women’s experiences and their reactions to these experiences? Why do we counteract stories like these with ‘#notallmen’? Why do some try to pivot the subject with ‘Yes, but what about…’? I cannot understand this. It breaks my heart and makes me angry in equal measure.

This behaviour was in full display last week as news trickled out about Bernice Cassar’s femicide, the third one this year. It was another senseless murder, which could have been avoided had the systems which are meant to protect us worked. Bernice should be alive today.

This year, why not start with believing and supporting women? Join us, Moviment Graffitti and over 20 NGOs on Friday, the 2nd December as we march to Reclaim the Night and demand that women have the right to move safely and freely, no matter the time and place. Details of the event can be found here.

This will be the first Reclaim the Night march held on our islands. On the event page, we are also posting the stories which have been shared with us by women who have experienced violence. There is power in sharing stories.

Yanika Borg is a Moviment Graffitti activist

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