Sometimes, it seems that all women need to do is leave the house and they’re somehow “asking for it.” The “it” in this case can be anything from being told by men to smile, to being cat-called, groped, assaulted, raped or even killed. You could be forgiven for assuming that women leave the house solely for men’s pleasure and amusement, and that men are damn right to get angry when they’re called out for their behaviour. Boys will be boys, and all that nonsense.
The Y Factor is the youth initiative of National Women’s Council of Ireland, aiming to give a voice and empower the girls and young women who are brave enough to stand up and advocate for change to a patriarchal Ireland. One of the issues that comes up again and again for us is the issue of sexual harassment on the street and the groping of young women by men in social situations, such as bars and nightclubs.
It is often assumed that domestic violence is something which only affects women in long established relationships, or married women, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In March of this year, the largest ever research on violence against women was published by the European Fundemental Rights Agency. Its findings, based on interviews with 40,000 women across the EU, highlighted the seriousness of the problem, with one in five women reporting that they have experienced sexual or physical violence since the age of 15. Worryingly, data from Ireland indicates a higher incident rate of one in three Irish women reporting such an experience.
What struck us at The Y Factor was not just the actual violence faced by women, but the fear of male violence in itself curtailing the manner in which women go about their daily lives, the fear denying women the freedom to participate fully in society. 52% of women in Ireland reported that they avoid certain places or situations for fear of harassment or violence, a number higher than the EU average.
Now more than ever, technology is playing a part in the stalking and harassment experienced by young women. This includes women being bombarded with texts and calls, while younger women are more at risk of being stalked by their current or former boyfriends on social networking sites.
We know that abuse doesn’t always end when women leave a relationship, and for young women in dating relationships, this can be extremely worrying as they are ineligible for Domestic Violence Orders, due to the fact that they have not lived with an abusive partner.
Violence against women cannot be separated from women’s inequality – in Ireland women’s reproductive rights are curtailed, we are underrepresented in politics, marginalised in senior decision making positions and of course, more likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner than anyone else. The fight for an Ireland free from male violence against women is the fight for social, political and economic equality of the sexes.