Orla O'Connor: 'Ireland can be a world leader in keeping women safe from violence'
When we hear of a series of gangland killings, there is a predictable and expected political response - more gardaí on the streets, promises to crack down on the crime, assurances it will not happen again.
Compare this to the murder of women, and we get a very different response. It is March 2019, and already three women have been killed, all in their own home, all allegedly by men they knew closely. This is unfortunately not an infrequent occurrence.
This is the most serious end of violence against women, but it is not its only manifestation. We know that one-in-five women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, ranging from physical and sexual abuse, to having their movements controlled and policed by their intimate partner.
While there have been some efforts to tackle violence against women, the approach taken by the Government and statutory agencies so far has been too piecemeal to make a dent in such a prevalent and complex issue.
This is why yesterday's ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, or Istanbul Convention, marked a momentous International Women's Day. Ratification followed years of campaigning from women's groups, and from the bravery of women speaking out about their experiences of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, and their experiences of being re- victimised in family and criminal courts.
Quite simply, the Istanbul Convention provides the complete framework that we need to protect women and children, and to work towards eliminating the problem of men's violence.
What is so important about the Istanbul Convention is that it says very clearly that it is the responsibility of the State to prevent violence against women. This means the State is responsible for tackling the root causes of this highly gendered issue. It also means it has responsibility for shaping preventative policies and measures that are so required to bring about the cultural change that is required.
Furthermore, the convention states that the obligation is on the State to protect victims of violence against women, and to prosecute the perpetrators.
Significant greater priority and resourcing is required therefore by our judiciary in criminal and family courts and An Garda Síochána.
Concerns have been repeatedly raised about the sanctions applied to perpetrators, as well as the often low level of support victims receive when they seek to prosecute crimes.
The prosecution process can be incredibly traumatising for a woman who has experienced violence.
It is essential that they are fully supported through this process, and that the criminal justice process takes a stronger victim- centred approach, so women can achieve justice.
It is no longer acceptable for women to receive such a weak State response when they experience such horrendous violence.
Now that the convention is ratified, we must work quickly toward its full implementation, which will give Ireland the opportunity to achieve a gold standard in protection and support for women.
This means increasing the amount of refuge spaces available, as we currently only have one-third of the recommended amount. It also means that frontline providers, communities and affected women must be involved in the monitoring process, to ensure that the convention works for women.
Alongside this, we urgently need to establish multi-agency domestic homicide reviews, to greater protect women and children. We also need comprehensive data to underlie our policies.
The convention will also enable the prosecution of offences that are on the statute books but are rarely prosecuted, such as marital rape, and will 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 against women, 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.
The headlines in recent weeks have proven once again that violence against women is not a problem that will go away without a significant State response to protect women and children.
After ratifying Istanbul, there are no further barriers to action.
Women must be safe in their own homes.
Orla O'Connor is Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland