Subscriber OnlyOpinion

From Gaza to Afghanistan to the Criminal Courts of Justice, this was a bleak year for women

Misogyny continues to fuel a spectrum that runs from disdain to contempt to ingrained prejudice all the way to violent hatred

An Israeli woman calls for the release of hostages held by Hamas: 2023 was a year when Hamas’s depraved weaponisation of mass rape, torture and murder on October 7th was virtually dismissed as a predictable backlash on Jewish women. Photograph: Shutterstock

Two years on, we still do not know why Jozef Puska opted to turn the advantages he had been given in life to the destruction of a beautiful, joyful soul like Ashling Murphy. At just 33, he had a wife, children and a suitable home in a decent welfare system that saved him the trouble of working to support them due to a bad back.

We know he was carrying a knife that January day almost two years ago and planned to use it on a woman. Any woman. He had followed a number of them that day before spotting Ashling out for a mid-afternoon run on the canal. When she put up a fight, he stabbed her to death.

Loved ones so savagely bereaved want one answer from a trial: why? All they got from Puska at his trial in November was further evidence of his monstrous cowardice, naked lying and self-pity. There were no answers, just speculation by gardaí that it was a sexual attack. At the sentencing, Mr Justice Tony Hunt noted that judges don’t have the authority in this State to impose a minimum period to serve; if they had, he would have considered a whole life term sentence in Puska’s case. Some day it will fall to an individual to make the decision about his release and that individual, said the judge, will have to take into account that we still don’t know why Puska murdered Ashling.

Ashling Murphy's mother Kathleen holding a photo of Ashling outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after Jozef Puska was found guilty of her murder. Photograph: Collins Courts

Although most women are killed by someone they know, for many Puska was just the latest embodiment of their nightmares, another encroachment on our right to run or walk where we please, circumscribing our lives just a little more.


‘Horrific things I saw with my own eyes’: UN criticised as hearing told of Hamas sexual violenceOpens in new window ]

Women’s bodies have always been a battlefield in warOpens in new window ]

His trial was one of the year’s sharp reminders of an undercurrent sensed by girls and women faced with certain types of men. The spectrum that starts with an almost concealed disdain, a certain contempt, an ingrained prejudice and runs all the way to violent hatred.

It was not a reassuring year for women.

It was the year that “sex addict” Russell Brand was exposed as an alleged sexual offender by a 16 year old among others, while legions of fans swept in to defend him. It was the year that Andrew Tate’s videos passed 11 billion views on TikTok and the founder of Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates, noted that for the first time in surveys about social attitudes, “the youngest cohort surveyed have significantly more extreme misogynist attitudes than the oldest”.

We saw it in the suggestions that the world’s abandonment of Afghan girls and their future might be a reasonable price to pay for peace under that foul, misogynistic regime; or when Hamas’s depraved weaponisation of mass rape, torture and murder on October 7th was virtually dismissed; or when the right wing’s strut across the US now sees 16 states that have either banned abortion completely or banned it after six weeks.

It was also a year when one state at least had to confront the world-changing outcome of putting unchecked misogynists in control of an authority.

Among the many catastrophic decisions and stories of 2023 that will haunt Israelis in perpetuity is the one about the women soldiers who repeatedly warned of an impending Hamas attack and were ignored.

‘My heart was ripped from my body’: Ashling Murphy’s mother tells court of heartbreakOpens in new window ]

Murder of Ashling Murphy ‘a monstrous crime that shocked the nation’, senior garda saysOpens in new window ]

They were the spotters at the Israeli Defence Forces’ lookout base on the Gaza border, a job that involves interminable staring at surveillance screens, searching the Gaza Strip for unusual activity. The task is exclusively female for reasons best known to senior army men. For months the women spotters had observed Hamas militants training for the precise scenario that unfolded on October 7th: driving vehicles across the border, murdering Israeli citizens in kibbutzim, taking over army bases, dismantling the cameras on the border fence, crossing back to Gaza with hostages. They could clearly see very high-ranking Hamas officials briefing men only metres from the fence.

Time and again they told their commanders what they were witnessing. Time and again they were told by officers of every rank that their reports were worthless, that they didn’t understand what they were seeing. A high-ranking officer who visited the base this year spelt out his contempt: “I don’t want to hear another word about this nonsense. If you nudge me again about this, you will stand trial.”

Wherever people’s hearts, heads or politics lie in this conflict, this is a story that reeks of such astounding contempt for women that it almost defies belief. Simply because it is so unbelievable, it probably led directly to the insane conspiracy theories swirling around October 7th. The obvious root of it is why an intelligence superpower would spend billions on high-tech security systems and train hundreds of young women to use them – and then completely ignore them.

It might seem unbelievable, wrote Haaretz newspaper journalist, Maya Lecker, “unless of course you’ve never been a woman in the military, or in a workplace, or in the world. Then you know there is no need to come up with a conspiracy to explain the catastrophic failures of October 7th. Criminal levels of chauvinism and arrogance go unpunished all the time.”

Gaza, Israel and the world have paid a terrible price for the commanders’ misogyny. Fifteen of those women soldiers were killed on October 7th and seven were taken hostage, with one of them subsequently killed by her kidnappers in Gaza. The question is rhetorical but must be asked anyway: what if the spotters sounding the alarm had been male? The answer is urgent – and not just for Israel.