Call for data on gender-based violence to be key to State strategy

National Women’s Council says education on abuse of women must be compulsory

Director of the National Women’s Council  Orla O’Connor: “We know from the numbers of women who contact the frontline services that both domestic and sexual violence is happening to a much greater degree than what’s in any official records.” Photograph: Laura Hutton

Director of the National Women’s Council Orla O’Connor: “We know from the numbers of women who contact the frontline services that both domestic and sexual violence is happening to a much greater degree than what’s in any official records.” Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

Comprehensive data on the number of women suffering violence at the hands of men is urgently needed if the Government wants to end gender-based violence, the director of the National Women’s Council has said.

This lack of centralised data on violence against women must be addressed as part of the Government’s new strategy, Orla O’Connor said.

“We know from the numbers of women who contact the frontline services that both domestic and sexual violence is happening to a much greater degree than what’s in any official records,” Ms O’Connor said. “There is a complete fall-off between people coming to frontline services and reporting to the guards.

“What needs to happen within this strategy is that from the moment a person comes forward, there are wraparound supports so that they can go and report, if that’s what they wish. So they can be supported through the criminal justice system.”

The Government announced in July 2021 the development of a new strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has now said it will be published by the beginning of March.

The National Women’s Council has called for one specific government department to take on full responsibility for overseeing the strategy. However, Women’s Aid chief executive Sarah Benson believes any strategy for ending gender-based violence must be a cross-governmental commitment, led by the Department of the Taoiseach.

“Integrated policy is also absolutely crucial, that’s probably what was missing in the past,” said Ms Benson, citing the example of victims of domestic violence who are also homeless or tied into mortgages with violent partners.

‘Structural change’

The appointment of an independent observer would also “reinforce the Government’s ability to actually enact the kind of deep structural change that we need to move forward”.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre director Noeline Blackwell agreed that all Government ministers must be involved as “no single department can deliver what needs to be done alone”.

“It has to be comprehensive and it has to be owned by all of government,” she said. “I fail to think of any single State department or agency that doesn’t have a part to play in advancing the reduction and ultimate elimination of gender-based violence.”

All three agencies agree the Government strategy must be structured around the four pillars of the Istanbul Convention – prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies.

The Istanbul Convention – the Council of Europe human rights treaty aimed at eliminating violence against women and domestic violence – should be viewed as the “baseline” for dealing with gender-based violence and not the gold standard.

“This strategy will only last for X number of years, but this is the work of a lifetime,” said Ms Benson.

‘Equality, not ethos’

The State’s education on gender-based violence should also be “secular, objective and rooted in equality, not ethos”, she said.

“These cannot be opt-in modules that schools decide to use or not,” said Ms O’Connor. “They have to be as important as English, Irish or maths. Schools should not get a choice to do them. They have to do them.”

The curriculum must give children of all ages “the tools they need to understand consent, specifically at an age when the only other place they hear about this is through pornography or from their peers”, said Ms Blackwell.

Men who have attended vigils and spoken with female family and friends about sexual violence since Ashling Murphy’s death must now continue that conversation with other men, said Ms O’Connor. “The Government’s national awareness campaign needs to really get men to continue this conversation with other men. It will be men calling other men out that will make the difference here.”

The State must also ensure the murder of Ms Murphy does not fade away with the news cycle, as the deaths of so many other women have, said Ms Benson. “The public move on but then you look back on the 244 women [who have been killed violently by men since 1996] and you consider the ripples on their family networks and communities and they haven’t forgotten,” she said. “We’re hearing really good, positive, proactive things from our political representatives right now, but in a year’s time I’d like us to look back and say yes, we actually moved forward on this.”