On behalf of the Governing Board of the St Jeanne Antide Foundation, colleagues, volunteers and so many members of SOAR, I would like to say hello and welcome.
This is a day dream for us. This week the Soar celebrates 8 years since its establishment. It’s been 8 years that I consider them a miracle. Why? This is because for me who comes from the discipline of Social Work, I have seen all the pillars of Social Work happen in SOAR. A group of women who, with their children, have endured years of abuse and suffering and touched the bottom of their lives including the struggle of poverty, came asking me to help them see how they can start helping women who, despite having access help from Social Workers, shelters, psychologists, social benefits and many other aids, still remained threatened while they were rebuilding their lives.
From there, slowly, began what is today SOAR. SOAR is a unique service because it is run by women who have experienced domestic violence. We consider them experts because of the experience they have had. They have helped over 300 women in recent years. They did research, wrote papers and published a book - Phoenix Rising. Both Malta and England were trained. They had dialogues with policy makers. They have represented the collective voice in many forums. And they became Peer Mentors to guide other survivors.
It is the latter that the Ministry of the Family, Children's Rights and Social Solidarity is recognizing today - the help of Peer Mentoring that trained survivors offer to other survivors.
I encourage you to read the SOAR Section in the document I distributed to you - Promoting Family Well-being as it will help you feel more familiar with the spirit of SOAR.
We thank you, Minister Falzon, for taking the step to create the means by which SOAR can continue to flourish and make a social impact in the field of gender-based violence. We have been fighting for eight years to secure fundraising so that SOAR continues to fulfill its important mission. We thank all the key officials in the Ministry.
We also thank you Minister for, through the Social Care Standards Authority (SCSA) it was possible for SOAR to obtain the license to operate. Yesterday, this authority invited us to encourage women who have experienced gender-based violence to contribute suggestions stemming from their experience of using support services.
We also thank the Malta Police for setting up the first national hub against gender-based abuse and domestic violence. We have already started receiving positive feedback from SOAR members about the Police assistance in this hub.
The next two words will be from Elaine Compagno, a survivor, who has run SOAR for the past 8 years.
Speech during the event of the signing of the Public Social Partnership (PSP) for the SOAR Service by the Ministry for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity and the St Jeanne Antide Foundation
24th November 2020 at 2.10pm
I am honoured to be here today, at this special moment, to witness the SOAR service at the cusp of its next milestone. This is the manifestation of a dream that we founding members had for SOAR, 8 years ago.
Back then, in the Spring and Summer of 2012, I didn’t yet understand how personal it would become for me to see the voices of survivors represented in fora, round tables and policy working groups.
Then, some weeks later, one of the SOAR founding survivors, was murdered in her home. Meryem was almost 6 months pregnant with twins. She had told us that she suspected her estranged husband was breaking into her home when she was out. She had tried to report it and even collect evidence by putting flour on the floor to track footsteps. Then she was gone, and her murder remains unsolved to this day.
I was just getting to know her and just like that, she was snatched away. I remember feeling shell shocked. Stunned. It was like a cruel trick. One question stayed with me for months: ‘How did no one see this coming?’ A question that comes back each time another woman is murdered. To those of us who have seen the angry intent flash in the eyes of our abusers, it’s all so clear, so obvious.
We understood how the system failed Meryem, because it was failing us too. It was failing just about every woman we met in some way or form.
This country has a domestic violence problem. SOAR had the answer to a question that no one was asking: What can survivors tell us about this problem? What can they tell us about our Protection and Justice systems? So we worked hard to represent the voices of survivors to inform policy makers with their insight.
Even as we worked together to set up and run the SOAR service, we were struggling through our own post-domestic violence difficulties, years after ending our relationships. We felt misunderstood. To us, it was obvious that the problems we were facing 3 years after leaving violence were because of the violence. What if survivors were trained to support one another?
The origins of women’s support services around the world lie in grass-roots peer-support groups. It was the work of women who experienced and endured violence that lay the foundations of the women’s shelters and services we know today. However, locally, it didn’t always feel like this was a welcome space for us, but we persisted, trained, made connections, networked, showed up and collaborated until the SOAR service earned its legitimacy within the area of domestic violence support and activism nationally.
Then we asked, “Will others see the experience of survivors something worth investing their money and time in, as St Jeanne Antide Foundation has?” Looking at a stream of Government and Corporate funded SOAR projects, the answer is yes.
So I am absolutely thrilled that, coincidentally, on the 8th anniversary of the launch of the SOAR service, the Ministry for Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity is recognising the value of experts-by-experience through this new relationship with St Jeanne Antide Foundation and its support of the SOAR service.
Here’s to the start of a successful partnership that has the care, safety and dignity of vulnerable women and children at its core.
We are saddened to see that yet another woman has been killed in her home within weeks of the previous murder, making this the fourth femicide this year in Malta. Since 2000, for every 4 femicides in Malta, 3 have been murdered by partners/husbands, ex-partners/ex-husbands or a close family member.
Despite the implementation of the Istanbul Convention in our laws, we are angered by the fact that women’s lives are still being taken away by those that claim to love them because the very authorities that are meant to protect them are not ensuring their safety and protection.
Living free from violence is a fundamental human right and it is the State’s responsibility to see that this human right is upheld. It is a tired and worn out assumption that femicide happen because victims do not seek help. Countless victims try to access protection and justice services with no success and it has become an unacceptable state of affairs to have women that are on daily basis being forced to live in violent situation in their homes.
We therefore call on the State to ensure that:
Domestic violence is dealt with the seriousness that it deserves. It is not a private matter but a crime that affects us all as a society;
The state adheres to its positive obligation to ensure that all women and girls are protected and live free from violence;
Risk assessment tools are identified, codified and that ALL police officials, including frontliners in our police stations receive the necessary and good quality training to recognise domestic violence and understand the correct procedure that should be followed since the enactment of the Gender based Violence and Domestic Violence Act, to evaluate risk and ensure the safety of the victim and other family members;
Different government departments, agencies and ministries work in cohesion to implement processes and strategies that will bring a measure of safety to victims and hold perpetrators accountable;
Courts see all cases of domestic violence through to the end, holding perpetrators accountable, even if the victim feels pressured to refrain from testifying against the perpetrator;
Police officials have the necessary tools, such as body cams, to gather additional evidence during house calls.
A clear political commitment, an adequate budget, a well-resourced unit whose members focus and work exclusively on the issues of violence, and clear targets with strict timelines that are monitored.
In the current situation, the next femicide is just waiting to happen. How many more women need to die before violence against women is truly taken seriously?
This press release is being issued by the following 36 organisations:
St Jeanne Antide Foundation, aditus foundation, Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM), Women’s Rights Foundation, Merħba Bik, Department Gender Studies (Faculty of Social Wellbeing, University of Malta), The Critical Institute, SOS Malta, Allied Rainbow Communities (arc), Richmond Foundation, YMCA, African Media Association Malta, Association for Equality (A4E), Malta Confederation of Women’s Organisations (MCWO), Kummissjoni Ejjew Għandi, Dean’s Office (Faculty of Social Wellbeing, University of Malta), Men Against Violence, Attard Ladies Cultural Club (ALCC), Malta Association of Women in Business (MAWB), MGRM, We Are, Group of Independent MCWO Members (GIMM), Women’s Study Group (WSG), Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN), JRS, Drachma LGBTI, Drachma Parents’ Group, Integra Foundation, SPARK, Department for inclusion and Access to Learning (Faculty of Education, University of Malta), Solidarity with Migrants Group, OASI Foundation, Social Assistance Secretariat of Malta Catholic Action, Victim Support Malta, Dar tal-Providenza, Paolo Freire Institute.
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