There will be no equality between men and women until gender-based violence (GBV) is tackled, a leading expert has said on Saturday ahead of a meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly on the issue.
Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, will address the assembly on gender equality on its last day of substantive deliberations, before it makes recommendations to Government next month.
It will be examining the "pervasive and prevalent" nature of GBV, which was "propelled" on to its agenda despite not being included in the original terms of reference when the assembly was appointed by the Oireachtas in July 2019.
The issue was cited so often in the 246 public submissions that it was decided time and space would have to be given to it, says Dr Pauline Cullen, associate professor of sociology at Maynooth University.
It was “very clear” GBV “is not just a minority experience”. The submissions – from 180 individuals and 66 organisations – showed “this is pervasive, it’s prevalent, it’s on a continuum”, Dr Cullen said.
“There was a very good case made that we couldn’t really have a citizens’ assembly on gender inequality without including it, that if we went ahead with the formal terms of reference, on care, on leadership, on the economy... and we didn’t include it we would be missing a big piece.”
GBV is seen in the submissions as caused and exacerbated by gender inequality. “Submissions were clear in making the connection between some very old ideas about women and men’s roles that seems to feed GBV and keep it alive – that it is about power and control, and we need to go back to unpicking the origins of these ideas.”
Ms Blackwell said: "It is crucial GBV is being discussed by the assembly. It is key. Sexual violence is one of the last areas where people feel they can abuse power on purpose or casually believe in their right to demand sex or take sexual control of somebody else's life.
“Of course everyone must take the usual safety precautions when they are out alone but women have to add another layer of analysis on to that, which is they are more vulnerable. That impacts on women and girls by making their world feel unsafe, feel small and that then feeds into other aspects of her life, like work and relationships.
“It is actually really only dawning on people now that unless we can address GBV and recognise it as an equality issue we will never have gender equality.”
While the assembly’s original plan of work was to look at gender equality in work, welfare and pay, care and leadership, GBV came up so often that it was “propelled on to the agenda”, said Dr Cullen.
Even the threat of GBV could “make a person’s life smaller, deprive them of things like confidence, self-esteem, having your own voice – all of those are diminished”, she said.
“The threat of it that hangs in the air. It affects boys too but it disproportionately affects young women and girls. It’s a kind of a stifling thing in the sense of the agency that young women would feel they have.”
Among the measures called for are curricular change in schools particularly in sex education; reform of family law and criminal justice systems’ approach to GBV; trauma-informed public services; and a single focal point in Government to address GBV.
The meeting takes place at the end of a week in which GBV has been a major talking point following the disappearance of English woman Sarah Everard near London. A man has been arrested on suspicion of her kidnapping and murder.