President welcomes move to send Irish soldiers to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone

Gender violence and poverty are addressed in Malawi visit

President Michael D Higgins has warmly welcomed the Government decision to send three members of the Defence Forces to assist in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone.

The Irish soldiers will carry out assignments in the areas of security, logistics and emergency planning over a three-month period.

President Higgins said; “The very best contribution you can make is in terms of logistics and I know myself that not only are the Army in a very good position to provide such experts, but they have fantastically sensitive intercultural and interpersonal skills.”

Later, in Lilongwe, he dismissed as "a great nonsense" cultural and traditional justifications for violence against women.

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President Higgins attended presentations by Concern, Goal, Trócaire, and Self Help Africa on the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence initiative, beginning on November 25th, as well as by the Irish Rule of Law group. The latter involves Irish solicitors, who provide free legal aid in Malawi, where people can be detained for long periods without trial. This was, President Higgins said, an "initiative that is being assisted by very fine young people from the legal system in Ireland".

‘A great nonsense’

On gender violence, he said “It simply has to be absolutely accepted that any violence against women is not justified or sustained by the screen of invoking tradition or culture. This is a great nonsense and standing behind it is a very, very deep inequality.”

Violence in the home “is learned behaviour and every study that I’ve seen shows that it exists in every class, even in the most developed societies”, he said.

Yesterday morning in the village of Saopampeni, where 500 people live, about 140km from Lilongwe, he toured nine projects assisted by Irish Aid. The area has been badly affected by climate change with its rainy season shortened by months in recent decades. He said the level of poverty he witnessed there was "much worse than anything that would have been in [rural] Ireland in the 1950s."

Burden of poverty

There were similarities though. “For example the huge burden of poverty that was carried by women. One woman spoke of setting out to gather wood at four in the morning and coming back at two in the afternoon,” he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times