Tuesday 11 December 2018

Orla O'Connor: 'A chance to set the standard in tackling violence against women'

'A wave of women have powerfully shared their stories, but we are desperately missing a strategic approach' Stock Image
'A wave of women have powerfully shared their stories, but we are desperately missing a strategic approach' Stock Image

Orla O'Connor

While violence against women remains at epidemic levels, another year has passed in which Ireland has not stepped up to the plate to protect women.

In 2018, domestic and sexual violence was rarely out of the headlines, from the #MeToo movement to the Google walkout protesting against sexual harassment.

In Ireland, we saw widespread protests about the prosecution system and its need to better support victims of rape and other sexual violence.

There has been some progress. There is a review of the prosecution process in cases of sexual violence, an important step on the road to a prosecution process which supports the victims of violence against women and which holds the perpetrators to account, while respecting the rights of the accused.

The offence of coercive control is on the statute books from January with the commencement of the new domestic violence legislation, while the Central Statistics Office will now be responsible for producing data on sexual violence in Ireland, and the national introduction of Garda divisional protective services units has begun.

The context has changed in Ireland, with a wave of women speaking out against domestic and sexual violence, powerfully sharing their stories. Yet, while there has been progress, we are desperately missing a strategic approach to tackling violence against women.

This is largely due to the fact Ireland has not yet ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, or the Istanbul Convention.

Women in Ireland are still being killed in their own homes, more than half by a partner or an ex-partner.

We have only one-third of the refuge spaces recommended by the Council of Europe. And while a second Savi (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) report is welcome, we will have to wait five years before its publication.

Implementing the Istanbul Convention is critical if we are to match our response to the scale and the complexity of violence against women. It is no longer acceptable for women to receive such a weak State response.

It is the obligation of the State to fully address violence against women in all its forms and to take measures to prevent this violence, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. Failure to do so would make it the responsibility of the State.

Next year presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to answer the #MeToo chorus in Ireland, and ensure we achieve the gold standard of protection and support for women.

What we need is real political leadership on this issue. Justice and Equality Minister Charlie Flanagan must outline the steps that he will take to ensure that Ireland ratifies the convention without delay, and that we meet the standards of the convention.

This must include the involvement of frontline providers, communities and affected women in the monitoring process, to ensure that the convention works for women.

This would also enable women's groups to press for convictions of offences which have not been properly prosecuted, such as marital rape, and would aid the prosecution of new offences of coercive control and digital stalking.

The National Women's Council of Ireland is preparing for full monitoring of the Istanbul Convention from a women-centred perspective.

Across the world, women are speaking out against violence, and Ireland has a chance to be a world leader in setting international standards to prevent, protect against and prosecute violence against women. Let's meet this challenge.

Orla O'Connor is director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, and chair of the Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women, which is holding an event this Friday, 'Creating a Safer Ireland for Women'. More information on nwci.ie

Irish Independent

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