President attends an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Irish Consortium…

Wed 25th Nov, 2015 | 10:00
location: The Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street

The Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street

Wednesday, 25th November, 2015

“Standing Up, Speaking Out: Transforming Men’s Attitudes and Behaviours to End Violence against Women" Speech at the Annual Event of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence

Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 25th November 2015

Distinguished guests, Minister Sherlock, ladies and gentlemen.

Go raibh maith agaibh as an fíorchaoin fáilte sin. Is mór an pléisiúir é labhairt libh ar maidin agus muid ag ceiliúradh ní hamháin Lá Idirnáisiúnta um Dhíothú Foréigin in aghaidh Ban agus tús an '16 Lá Gníomhaíochais in aghaidh Foréigin Inscne' ach chomh maith cothrom deich mbliana bunaithe Chuibhreannas na hÉireann um  Foréigean Inscne.

[Thank you very much for your warm welcome. It is a great pleasure to address you this morning as we mark not only the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the beginning of the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’ but also the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence.]

The Consortium is a truly important, forward-looking and unique platform, bringing together Irish development and humanitarian civil society organisations with Irish Aid and the Defence Forces, enabling Ireland on behalf of Irish people to speak clearly with one voice on the imperative of eliminating gender-based violence globally.

We have heard this morning of the Consortium’s origins as a response to the horrifying abuses witnessed during the Darfur crisis one decade ago, and of the inspiring manner in which Irish statutory bodies and civil society actors came together to develop a coherent national response to this great outrage.

That the Consortium, ten years on, is not only still working on such issues but has expanded its membership underlines the critical and fundamental importance of your work as we strive to eradicate this most terrible abuse of human rights; an abuse that occurs daily across the globe.

Gender-based violence, physical, sexual, emotional or economic has been globally recognised as one of the most widespread and persistent violations of the human rights of women and girls. It is a universal outrage, a learned behaviour the occurrence of which transcends geography, class and culture and it is rooted in many factors including poverty, conflict, and climate change, and while some achievements have been made, violence and coercion are increasing at global level, in particular in zones of conflict. 

What gender violence research tells us is that a learned and initiated behaviour and the primary sources of such violence may be amplified by other sources which define the form and method of the violence.

Today, more than twenty years after the UN General Assembly published their Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, one in three women around the world still experience physical or sexual violence. That is a figure which is unacceptable and reminds us of the many immediate and longer term challenges which must be overcome if we are to achieve equality and empowerment of women across the world.

Here in Ireland, while awareness of the fact and consequences of gender based and sexual violence has undeniably improved, the prevalence of violence against women remains a grave cause for concern. 

Research conducted in 2005 by the National Crime Council and the ESRI found that 1 in 7 women in our country have, at some times in their lives, experienced severe abuse of a physical, sexual or emotional nature at the hands of a partner or husband. The same survey estimates that 213,000 women in Ireland have been severely abused by somebody close to them.  This is not of course a uniquely Irish phenomenon: the EU Campaign Against Domestic Violence has shown that 25% of all violent crimes reported in the EU involve a man assaulting his wife or partner.

As members of a global society, we all share a responsibility to stop the destructive cycle of violence against women in all of its many forms. We have, over the past two decades, witnessed a conceptual shift in attitude from a very narrow view of men as perpetrators and women as victims of violence, to one which understands the enormous potential of men and boys being partners in combating such violence.  The title of today’s event Standing Up, Speaking Out: Transforming Men's Attitudes and Behaviours to End Violence against Women is a critical one and allows us an opportunity to reflect on and review both the achievements that have been made, and the challenges that remain.  I drove past Liberty Hall’s banner –MAN UP – yesterday and I congratulate SIPTU on it.

At the heart of much of the violence perpetrated against women and girls across the globe, lies a fundamental imbalance of power between the genders. Oxfam Ireland has shown in its research and literature that gender inequality is a fundamental element in the gap between the richest and poorest people in the world, a gap which sees the 80 richest people on the planet owning the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent.

We know that, across the world, women earn less money than men and own less property. In Africa, for instance, while women represent half of the agricultural workforce, they own only 25% of the land, but much more importantly are insecure on the land they work with models uncontested unfortunately by even some development NGOs, leaving them highly dependent, at risk of losing their livelihood, and vulnerable to poverty, abuse and levels of violence which are up to five times that of economies where income has risen.

The particular vulnerabilities of women and girls to violence and abuse in emergencies has also been underscored this year as we witnessed the number of refugees and displaced persons reach its highest level since figures were first recorded in the 1950s. We recently heard the UN High Commission for Refugees express its deep concern regarding sexual violence and abuse against women and children transiting Europe, many of whom are forced to travel at night along insecure routes and to spend time in overcrowded reception centres, which lack separate spaces for single women and families with children.  These are circumstances I personally witnessed in the refugee camps of Gambella during the visit of Sabina and I to Ethiopia last year.

Níl amhras ar bith ach gur aistear tábhachtach é an t-aistear i dtreó chomhionannais agus i dtreó cumhachtaithe ban. Ní amhras ar bith ach oiread ach má tá muid chun ceann scríbe a bhaint amach, caithfimid tabhairt faoin chaighdeáin sochaíoch i leith fireannachta, atá ina phríomhchúis don foréigean in aghaidh na mban. 

[There can be no doubt that the journey towards equality and the empowerment of women remains a significant one.  There can also be no doubt that if we are to successfully engage with that journey, the societal norms relating to masculinity which are a fundamental driver of acts of violence against females must be challenged.]

It is critical that we continue to work to engage men, and particularly young men and boys, in reconceptualising masculinity. This, of course, must not be limited to engaging the minority of men who have perpetrated violent acts themselves, but also includes those men who, by their silence or such acts as accessing sexualised images of women and young girls, have created a permissive environment for violence against females.  There is a need to reconceptualise sexuality in a way that is informed, not limited to, one culture but to be insistent that no cultural invocation should stand between a woman of any circumstance and her rights.

As we review our journey to date, there is some reason for hope and optimism. We have, achieved some statements of principle today, a robust international normative framework underpinning our efforts to eliminate gender based violence. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women [1993], set out for the first time, and in very clear terms, how violence against women is both a result of and an obstacle to the achievement of women’s equality, affecting all women world-wide.

This message was further emphasised, two years later, with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which not only reaffirmed the call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women but also gave clear direction on how this was to be achieved.

Over the past twenty years, this normative framework has evolved. It now recognises the multiple vulnerabilities to violence which women and girls experience.  And it more clearly defines how sexual and gender based violence have been, are, are can be used as a tool in the oppression of women, men, boys and girls and the enforcement of gender roles and hierarchies, including through violence against members of the LGBTI community.

These gains have been lodged in some major recent global agreements.  The landmark agreement in New York in September of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was the culmination of an unprecedented process of public consultation and intergovernmental negotiations, the final stage of which Ireland had the honour to co-facilitate, together with Kenya. Two decades on from Beijing, world leaders have, through the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, decisively re-affirmed their commitment to achieving gender equality and to the empowerment of all women and girls. It is an agenda which is firmly grounded in human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] and which is rightly and necessarily ambitious, universal and transformative in nature.

The inclusion in the 17 goals and key targets, of targets under Goal 5 on gender equality, which explicitly call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls and the elimination of harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation is a significant step forward from the Millennium Development Goals. However, it is also important to underline that the issue of violence against women and girls permeates the entire Agenda.  For example, the target on the provision of gender-sensitive and safe learning environments, under Goal 4 on education, will be central to ensuring that girls and young women can access quality education free from the threat of violence.

Then again the specific targets, under Goal 11, on safe cities, relating to making urban areas safe for women and children are an important step in ensuring that women and girls can access public spaces and public transportation without fear of violence. In addition, the target to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children will be absolutely vital to realising Goal 16 on peace, justice and inclusive institutions.

Let us be clear:  we cannot achieve this ambitious agenda for sustainable development if we are not successful in eliminating violence against women and girls. In September of this year I had the privilege of addressing Summit Dialogue on Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in New York. I stated then, and will say it again now, “We should not have to wait another 15 years to end violence against women.  We should do it today”.

Here in Ireland we are also taking a leadership role in combating violence against women and girls through our foreign policy, and through the work of Irish Aid in partnerships such as that with the Ugandan based Raising Voices, and the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. The work of the many Irish NGOs present in the room today is also a critical contribution to the international fight against gender based violence. 

Earlier this year, I accepted the invitation of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, UN Under-Secretary General and the Executive Director of UN Women’s, to become a Champion of   the HeforShe campaign. This global movement has the engagement of men and boys at its core, seeking to bring one half of humanity together in support of the other half of humanity, engaging institutions and organisations positioned to make and influence important changes within communities where women are most vulnerable to gender equality and discrimination.  I look forward to making my own modest contribution in carrying out this role with passion and energy in the months ahead. 

Last November, as part of our visit to Africa, Sabina and I had the great honour of visiting the Ufulu Gardens in Malawi were we learned how members of the Consortium are working closely together in combating gender-based violence at the community level. I am delighted to learn that this initiative in Malawi has been brought to the next level this year, as will be showcased at today’s event. I am greatly impressed by this work and I look forward to more and more people, including our schools and community organisations hearing about it.

The eradication of gender based violence remains a great ethical and global challenge of our age.  Today is an opportunity to ask ourselves how we, as a nation, can play our own important role in the elimination of gender based violence in Ireland and across the world. Indeed, may I urge all those present here today to take this conversation beyond these four walls that have celebrated so much fine scholarship and ensure that we build, at home and abroad, a more just and a safer world for all our female citizens.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.