Are we really ready to talk about gender inequality and violence against women or has the murder of Ashling Murphy, which shocked the nation become yesterday’s news? People cried that she was #justoutforarun. This unfortunately was not an isolated incident, 244 women have died violently since 1996 and 18 children died alongside their mothers (Women’s aid femicide watch). The world health organisation (2013) says that 1/3 of women and girls will be the victim of rape, sexual abuse or harassment at some time in their lives.
So why so little action? Patriarchy places less value on women and girls, making almost invisible their contribution to society, imposes economic restrictions in the form of lower pay, excessive childcare costs and reduced pensions. It limits access to power and decision making, any wonder in a crisis such as covid, so little thought was given to the impact of stay at home orders on domestic violence rates.
Women and in particular, women from working class and marginalised communities, who suffer the greatest inequalities from policies made by the ruling classes, are underrepresented in decision making and in Kerry that can be seen by looking at the huge gender imbalance on Kerry County Council, where out of 33 councillors, only 5 are women.
Women’s issues and gender based violence remain largely ignored by those parties in government, both now and in previous governments, who when the opportunity arose, voted for policies that negatively impacted on women, such as austerity and welfare cuts, that saw child benefit and lone parent payments reduced and failed to support low paid workers, who are predominantly women. Governments that failed women in the provision of housing, health care and reproductive rights, the list goes on and women bear the brunt.
Some counties in Ireland don’t have a women’s refuge and don’t get started on funding for women’s centres! In 2018 the Women’s centre in Tralee was closed, the funding was withdrawn as it was no longer considered relevant, in reality just another cost cutting exercise, where women paid the price. At a time where women still do not have an equal political voice, still experience a 14% wage inequality, are more likely to have health issues ignored or downplayed due to the lack of funding in medical research on women’s health. Decisions are being made which impact on women’s lives, without women’s voices at the table.
Sexism and misogyny is not natural, it starts somewhere and that is usually at the top, our laws and institutions set the mark and the message filters down, to our media, culture and daily lives.
In order to eliminate gender based violence we must look at the messages we send out about the role and value of women in society. We must look at structures of oppression in both public and private spheres.
Once and for all we need to challenge pervasive rape myths which are perpetuated and influence both victim and potential jurors. How women dress is not the cause of rape, yet a staggering 29.2% believed this to be the case in research conducted in 2011(McGee et al),this victim blaming moves the attention away from the perpetrator and results in fewer women reporting incidents.
So, where do we start and how do we dismantle such ingrained bias against women. At a recent International Women’s Day celebration in Listowel, hosted by the Phoenix Women’s Centre and NEWKD, the audience of women shared their experiences, talked about the ways in which, even in the light of the horrific murder of Ashling Murphy, it was women who were being sanctioned and curfewed. The assumption being that if women are not safe on the streets then they shouldn’t go out at night or walk alone. Very little discussion was on how sexism and misogyny is fuelled by the structures in our society that oppress women and devalue their contribution. The women who attended the day in Listowel, were far from impressed. What they did want, was action on the part of the Gardai and judiciary and for those bodies to be accountable for the way in which cases are responded to and prosecuted. Women want to see communities stand up and decry the perpetrators, not the victim. Women want equal pay and pension rights. Women want the care that they provide to our society to be recognised and quantified. The unequal treatment of women continues because it keeps the wheels of capitalism turning but if we are really committed to ending sexism and misogyny then women’s contribution to our society needs to be fully acknowledged. No one should be forced to stay in an abusive relationship because they cannot afford to leave. Women are not commodities and neither are our bodies. Women want to be able to be independent, which means access to housing, childcare and bodily autonomy.
Decision making about us without us needs to end. To build a safer society for women we need to do more than pay lip service to it. We need to fund women’s centres and refuges. We need to ensure that age appropriate sex education and consent lessons are delivered in all schools, regardless of ethos. We need to lift women out of poverty and ensure that those women who are in caring roles are supported and yes, we need to start listening to women and facilitating women to engage in decision making We cannot stop until all women have full social, economic, legal and political rights, only then will we have a chance of creating a society where women are safe and valued.