7th of March 2022
I cannot imagine the lived experiences of those who belong to marginalised communities. In a systemically racist and xenophobic culture, the fear I feel as a white, abled cisgender woman is minimal relative to the experiences of those who live in bodies even less respected in Ireland. I do not have the layers of fear many do, and I do not wish to speak on the experiences of others but on the systemic problems of gender-based violence (GBV).
The refusal to recognise the relevance of microaggressions in the culture of this country contributes to our inability to properly address gender-based violence. The idea that there is a relationship between cat-calling or rape jokes, and physical GBV, is one that the boys’ club of Ireland refuses to accept. The fact that 97 per cent of UK students surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment seems to escape men who regard rape as appropriate material for a joke. That this actually may have happened to women appears irrelevant – as though the pain of others should not prevent men from doing and saying as they please. The reality is that these jokes normalise the compartmentalisation of violent rhetoric and the real-world treatment of women. Globally, one in three women have been subjected to violence in their lifetime, 65 per cent of women have experienced GBV either directly or indirectly, and 40 per cent of women surveyed reported feeling less safe in public spaces since the COVID-19 Pandemic began.
Again and again, as these stories of women being brutally and often fatally attacked come to the forefront in the media, sympathisers recite the same list of facts; those same lists we were taught as children would protect us. It was bright. She was dressed correctly. She texted a friend. She had headphones in. She was polite but not too polite. On and on it goes as though we must preempt reactions to assault with justifications of the victims’ own actions. As though it is the victims of assault who are responsible. As though women walking or jogging or running must qualify the living of their lives as well as doing the right things, following the right rules, doing what they were told was right. The truth is, women can and often do move through life doing what they are taught is right to protect themselves and still, those carrying out the violence are not centred in the conversations. Those attackers, those assaulters, those murderers: they are in the wrong. The reactions rarely highlight the wrongs carried out at the level of specificity that the victims’ actions are defended. Let’s be clear. Men shout at, grope, grab, assault and murder women. Men dismiss fears as silly, men use and abuse positions of societal and physical dominance to enact violence on women that keep us suppressed. And rather than justify their complicity in systems that uphold this power, they say, again and again, that it’s ‘not all men’ and perpetuate the need for sympathisers to justify the actions of a victim.
The truth is, as we have seen, heard, said, and screamed that the rules we were taught about staying safe are simply not working. They’re not working because victims aren’t the ones at fault. I’ll repeat that: women aren’t the ones at fault. Regardless of what they are wearing, where they’re going, who they tell, and whether it’s a scorching summer’s day or a dead winter’s night, nobody should fear for their lives in modern Ireland. No one should have to rethink exercising, socialising, grocery shopping, or anything else women already limit themselves to daylight hours to do. And where do these rules lead us? Don’t get the bus, get a taxi. And then you hear stories about rogue taxi drivers, so you should book a taxi, not hail one off the street. And even then, I have had countless moments of sheer panic when a taxi driver takes a different route than I expected. In the same way that you can dress modestly and be shouted at in the street, you can do all the right things and still end up dead. The actual problem is the inability of those who the system suits to see the connection between micro-aggressions and murder when it comes to women’s safety. The problem is the people enacting the violence.
The solution to this is not to bash men as a group. The solution is to tear down the systems which lead not only to male violence against women but also lead men to have so little space to express themselves and their vulnerabilities that they become violent and harmful to themselves and others. On the subject of solutions, however, neither does the answer constitute the asking of men how they would feel if it was their sister or girlfriend or anyone else in their lives experiencing such violence. We are not just sisters or wives or daughters or mothers. We are not our relationships to men. It’s time our society reflected on the idea that women are people regardless of how they relate to men and that nobody ever gets a free pass to act violently towards others. It’s not that you can’t be violent because you see your sister reflected in another person. It’s because it’s not okay to carry out violence on a person, whether you relate to them or not.
Often when issues in society are highlighted, people immediately demand solutions to problems. I would first like to say that we can point out societal issues without being experts on the answers. That being said, when I lived in Canada, I had a few experiences surrounding how we might address some of the routine micro-aggressions carried out by men. In one instance, a builder working in a different part of the building passed remarks about a young woman who was behind the counter of a cafe I worked in. A few of us as staff of the cafe put in a complaint with the construction company carrying out the work, and within a week we received confirmation that he had been terminated from the project due to the complaint. When I recounted this story to Irish friends, it was met with surprise. Somehow, the prevailing opinion was that because it was non-physical meant that he should not have been reprimanded. However, taking these incidents seriously is A) clearly possible through employment law or harassment clauses in contracts and B) the first step in addressing GBV in adults who are otherwise unlikely to engage with education measures proposed to address it.
Along with the need for changes in how we permit citizens and working professionals to behave towards women, we need a change in state systems that uphold violence against women and marginalised groups. An Garda Síochána was established upon the foundation of the state under the premise of Irish people policing Irish people. Since then, Ireland has changed. It has become a more diverse, more secular, and more accepting place. The Gardaí have not kept up with this development. The behaviour we have seen from Gardaí in recent years, from Dara Quigley’s treatment to cancelled domestic abuse call-outs, to a garda responsible for a rape inquiry receiving 15 reminders without taking action. These actions by Gardaí reinforce to women that our safety is not a priority and that our concerns are not taken seriously until it is too late. It is increasingly clear that the culture of Ireland needs to change, and the systems which currently exist are simply not working. They must be torn down and rebuilt.
The barriers to accessing domestic violence assistance are too high for all women in Ireland but are especially high for those migrant women who live in the country. Language barriers, immigrant status, and not having family support all contribute to difficulties in accessing these services. In 2020, 22% of women who used Women’s Aid’s One-to-One Support service were from migrant communities. 27% of women who contacted their Domestic Abuse Information and Support were from migrant communities. These figures are particularly stark when one considers that migrant women in 2019 made up approximately 6.3% of the population of Ireland. It is necessary to bear in mind that while women are all affected by gender-based violence in this country on some level, for some, it is far harder to get help than others. And in a country that is slow to recognise the experiences of those it doesn’t see reflected in the mirror, it is the hardest.
It is time for us to recognise the disregard not only for women’s safety but for the safety of those who do not fit the paper chain cutouts we made in school. It is time to recognise that the underbelly of aggression in this country extends far beyond the microaggressions we brush off daily. This ripples through to many groups who don’t see themselves represented in state or cultural systems in this country. They are not considered by those in positions of decision-making or power, much less included by them. It’s time to recognise that the culture of Ireland has changed since the foundation of the free state and that the systems that uphold the old Ireland must be changed if not torn down and started anew.
Hush Dialogues: @hushdialogues on Instagram (and their team members’ Instagrams)
Gorm Media: @gormmedia on Instagram and Twitter
The Liminal: a book which ‘challenges all who read it to reassess privileges and socially ingrained biases that have allowed institutionalisation to repeatedly happen in Ireland’ Available at: https://www.tallav.com/products/the-liminal-notes-in-life-race-and-direct-provision-in-ireland
Women’s Aid Ireland
UN Women: https://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/infographic/violenceagainstwomen/en/index.html#home
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