Freedom from Fear: Fund targeting violence against women launches

Signs of change in society built around systemic gender violence – Noeline Blackwell

Irish society has been built around systemic gender and sexual violence but there are now encouraging signs of change, the head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has said.

Noeline Blackwell was addressing the launch of a Freedom From Fear fund on Tuesday, which aims to channel money into both supportive and preventative initiatives targeting violence against women.

"We blinded our eyes to [domestic violence]. It was standing in plain sight a lot of the time. We were told what happened in a home was private, people were not to interfere," Ms Blackwell said, before alluding to an apparent shift in thinking.

“I actually think we have a society where the blinds are coming off. There is some change happening and to the credit of Government, our Government currently recognises an epidemic in this area.”

The fund will focus on two investment principles – supporting survivors of violence and other initiatives which seek to address its root causes. It is relying, chiefly, on the support of philanthropists and businesses to reach an initial “urgent” €100,000 target by the summer.

It has been partnered with the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI). Director Orla O'Connor declined to comment on her organisation's controversial decision to omit female Government TDs from a list of speakers at a forthcoming rally, saying to do so would distract from the fund's launch.

Next month’s event, which will hear from women representatives of Opposition parties, notably Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, prompted concerns among some female members of Government. Ms O’Connor said she would address the council’s position at a later stage.

“This is a really important fund. What we want is really for people to get a strong message today on the importance of violence against women and why we need to bring an end to it,” she said. “And yes that issue will be part of the International Women’s Day rally . . . and what we hope from that day is that hundreds, thousands of women come out on to the street and send a strong message to Government on so many issues.”

‘Calls for action’

Stephanie Walsh, business development director of Rethink Ireland, the organisation behind the fund, said too many women were living in fear of violence but there was now a momentum in challenging the issues, something the fund hoped to capitalise on.

“Violence against women is the feminist issue of our time,” she said. “In recent weeks we’ve seen a shift in public mood and calls for action. The momentum is with us and now is the time to act.”

The launch also heard from Charlene Masterson (33), a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of her father David Masterson (56) who was jailed for 17 years last July.

Ms Masterson, who now campaigns for awareness around sexual violence, said she had experienced verbal and physical harm from other men in life.

“The key to change in relation to gender-based violence is the conversation,” she said. “It’s time for people to call out their friends when they hear them say degrading or inappropriate things. It is time for people of all genders to talk about this.”