The volume of the messages of condolences that have been sent to the Kilcormac Killoughey club in Co Offaly these past few days has taken aback those close to the club.
They’ve come in from all over Ireland. They’ve come from Australia. From the UK. From America. They’ve come from clubs they know and clubs they don’t know. They have been words of comfort and solidarity as the club goes through the most unimaginable grief after the murder of Ashling Murphy.
There was a candlelit vigil on the pitch in Mountbolus in the parish of Killoughey last night. It was the first time the club as a whole united together to honour the memory of Ashling who played junior and senior camogie with the club.
“The last few days have been probably as tough a few days as we’ve ever seen,” said Donal Rigney, club manager.
“Ashling was very selfless with her talents. She shared her many talents with everybody to the best of her ability and it really shone out in her. She wanted to do as much as she could do for everyone else but she got brilliant enjoyment out of it herself. You could see that.
“She went for a run” has become a bell toll for our nation over the past few days. The tragedy has also been triggering for women around the country with their own experiences, and further heightened fears about safety. It seems to be everywhere. It’s a hairdresser vowing not to go out for a walk after work. It’s a female taxi driver who’d had enough and was clocking off early.
It’s looking down at a pair of runners in the kitchen and thinking, “not today”. It’s looking down at a pair of runners in the kitchen and thinking, “it has to be today”.
Varying levels of anxiety and awareness are stitched into the make-up of a woman. We’ve long known how to scan the road for danger. We’ve long known how to turn up our senses to gauge if the steps coming from behind belong to a man or a woman. We’ve long known how to listen to our gut instinct which somehow reads that all’s not right. It’s also more than that.
We’ve long known we occupy a world with a devastating imbalance of power and a patriarchal society that filters that down in numerous ways. Like the entitlement some males believe they have to comment and even control how we live. And how we look. And what we wear. Where we go. Who we talk to. What we say. How we say it. This hyper-vigilance has been engrained in us and is a burden girls and women carry, and which all goes into the outpouring of grief, anger, hurt and exhaustion this week.
This has to be a watershed moment for gender-based violence in our society. The broader reaction also has to reach into and challenge every level of life in Ireland. Because running along the continuum of gender-based violence is the safety of girls and women in sport. That runs alongside the necessity for safe spaces where girls and women can have their voices heard and listened to. That runs alongside equitable treatment for women in sport. That extends to players having trust in the organisations that are governing them. Because when women are treated as less than their male counterparts, whether it be organised or recreational sport, it all adds to a damaging culture that views women as “less than” and thus continues the vicious cycle in our society.
Huge progress has been made in women’s sport in recent years but the reality is that improvements are easier made when the starting point has generally been so low to begin with. One obvious way of addressing an imbalance of power in sport is progressing gender balance on boards of national sporting bodies. A target of 40pc of female representation has been called for by Sport Ireland by the end of next year. The statistics revealed in December show Government-funded sports boards with as low as 9pc or 13pc female representation which should be surprising. But it’s not.
We need men on these committees to really face up to this downfall in inclusion and diversity, and ensure women are empowered to come on board. It’s just one reason why we need men to be our allies now more than ever. We need men to not just listen, but act. And sport can lead the way on this, such as education on so-called “banter” and how any level of derogatory or degrading comments about women creates a misogynistic environment, especially when it’s done in private because that’s what keeps a seedy culture growing.
We need men to not pull up the ladder behind them. Generations of women in this country have built our sporting heritage into what it is today, and enabled and contributed to local stadia around the country to be built and volunteered their time. We need our male sports stars to call out any inequalities their female counterparts face, especially as it’s likely that they’ve never had to face it themselves. And we need boys and men to have the conversations that the burden of a woman’s safety should not be a woman’s to carry.
The country has united in shock and grief at what happened this week.
We need to continue that unity at all levels.