Public Affairs

Gender-based violence: We need to understand what is going wrong, why and how to put it right

Chair of the Executive Office Committee, Sinéad McLaughlin MLA says that we need men to take the lead in creating cultural change.

The murder of Ashling Murphy is such a terrible, tragic event for her, her family, and her community in Offaly. It resonates for women across the island of Ireland. Women are angry and upset, but we are also traumatised by it.

Ashling did everything right, she was getting exercise in a public place and in broad daylight. But even talking about doing ‘everything right’ is itself wrong. Women have the right to walk safely home at night, yet a new opinion poll shows that less than half of women in the North of Ireland feel safe on our streets.

But we know women are at most risk where we should be safest: in our own homes and within our families. Women have the right to live with their partner without being hit, kicked or murdered. Yet, too often that is what happens to women.

More women are murdered in Northern Ireland as a result of domestic violence than anywhere else in western Europe. Quite why is unclear, but perhaps it is connected to our history of the Troubles, the glorification and justification of past violence, an unacceptable macho culture and the continuation of paramilitaries.

These factors illustrate why the work by the Executive Office in producing a strategy tackling violence against women and girls is so very, very important. We need to understand what is going wrong, why and how to put it right.

The problem, of course, is not with women. Women are the victims, we deal with the symptoms of a society that has at its heart something deeply wrong. We must ask, why do some men hate women so much? So much hatred, that is, to kill women?

While violent pornography and violent online sexist games may have a role, they are not an explanation. We need to consider more generally the demeaning of women, whether it is online, in the street, or wherever it occurs. And we need men to take the lead in creating cultural change.

As chair of the Assembly’s Committee for the Executive Office, I look to officials to produce ideas, to copy best practice from other jurisdictions, some of which are years ahead of us in tackling this evil within our society. I want officials to put into practice their proposals quickly, without waiting for reports to be written and approved. We are in the midst of an emergency.

The office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has distributed on social media a powerful message to boys and men, explaining how words and actions matter. They matter to girls and women in giving them a better sense of freedom and opportunity. We need men and boys to become more aware of what they are saying and doing, and what impact their words and actions have on women and girls.

We owe it to Ashling Murphy, and all the other women who have been murdered, to learn from the past, to provide a better future for women.

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