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President hosts meeting of key organisations to consider the contribution which they can make to strengthening gender equality

Date: Wed 23rd Mar, 2022 | 10:24

  • President urges attendees to take whatever action is necessary to eliminate violence against women and to work ever harder to achieve and to strengthen gender equality in our society and in our world
  • Music provided at event by Comhaltas Ceolteórí Éireann, of whom the late Ashling Murphy was a member

President and Sabina Higgins this morning hosted a special event at Áras an Uachtaráin, bringing together a wide range of organisations to consider together what contribution they can make as a group to strengthening gender equality.

Amongst those attending were unions and employers, public sector bodies, sporting organisations, cultural bodies, educational institutions and student representatives, women’s groups, human rights advocates and other organisations directly supporting women.

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, acted as moderator for the event, which was initially due to take place on International Women’s Day but had to be postponed as a result of the President and Sabina’s positive tests for COVID-19 earlier that week.

The event, initially announced by President Higgins on St Brigid’s Day, is one of a number of actions which the President has taken since his appointment as a United Nations HeForShe Champion in 2015, in support of UN Sustainable Development Goal number 5 - to end gender-based violence. 

At the event, the attendees held discussions about what actions their organisations might be able to take to progress greater gender equality in society. As part of this consultative process, Noeline Blackwell asked the audience to reflect on the discussions of the day and to send back their thoughts on the issues raised.

Music was provided at the event by Comhaltas Ceolteórí Éireann, of whom the late Ashling Murphy was a member.  

Speaking at the event, President Higgins said:

“In recent times we have been shocked by tragic events of violence, leading to the deaths of young women. Young women with so much potential and possibility to offer our society, have had their lives taken, leaving heartbroken those who loved and cared for them. The families who mourn them are not alone in asking what kind of society is it that continues to hold in it and tolerate behaviour that allows women become the victims of discrimination, belittlement, abuse and aggression.

There can be no doubt that we must now re-examine, and in a spirit of some urgency, all of those factors that allow this to continue, and so much of which is based on the disrespect and exclusions that prevail for women in our society, and that have not been questioned, and have been allowed to be reproduced. 

We are past time for giving urgent consideration to the actions we might take in order to ensure that violence against women, in all its forms, is removed from our society along with all behaviour that contributes to the continuation of a society which is not fully inclusive. 

We are a country that strives to be a Republic, with a commitment in our Constitution to cherishing all our people equally. That is a commitment we have sadly failed to fulfil.  Ours is a country where women cannot walk alone in many places without fear of being attacked or subjected to unwanted attention or comments, where one in five employees have been sexually harassed at work – the majority of them women, where so many simple daily actions and situations place women in an environment where they feel unsafe or vulnerable.

We witness the casual misogyny, the vulgar comments, the online abuse meted out daily to women and considered by too many men and for too long to be acceptable, harmless and even humorous.

We listen to their stories and it is reported in different forms of the media that we are shocked, we are appalled, we are angered, but are we? Listening, however, is not enough, we need to talk and we need to act. Calling for a national conversation on how we, as a society, might create a fairer and safer environment for our female citizens is by now becoming repetitive. It cannot wait. 

Across all spectrums and fields of Irish society we must begin to consider and discuss the actions that are necessary to prevent any continuing to ignore, or at worst facilitating and enabling, the discrimination and abuse that so many women suffer and tolerate in their daily lives. 

At a global level we must oppose any attempt at invoking cultural exception, bogus arguments. I note in particular the girls who just today have been continued to be denied access to schools in Afghanistan, despite previous commitments. We must recognise that a culture that accepts and fails to speak out against the daily forms of abuse and belittlement of women is a culture that silently enables its endurance and escalation, with often serious consequences such as ill treatment, exploitation and even death.

Countries that are safe for the women and girls who inhabit them can only grow from societies and communities that recognise the basic dignity that is the source of rights, in order to ever achieve such places of safety, security and recognition of dignity, and they are too rare, we must teach our young males to be knowingly respectful of women in the way they treat and speak about their fellow citizens.

In every area of life we must examine the change we urgently need.

Today, Sabina and I, as a HeForShe advocate, at the request of then UN Women Executive Director, wanted to bring you all together from across society to consider actions, and hear concrete commitments, which we can take as individuals or as organisations to realise the achievement of a truly equal world, one in which the relationships between the genders is one of solidarity, equality, and respect and defined by a spirit of shared humanity.

I know in my heart that together we can begin the vital work of forging a new and better relationship between men and women and a culture and society that is fair, inclusive and respectful of all its citizens in all their diversities. Let us all take the occasion of this gathering to not only reflect together but to make a commitment on the actions we can take to make change a reality.

May I thank Comhaltas Ceolteórí Éireann for the beautiful music they have brought to this occasion. Ashling Murphy, who is such a recent victim of male violence was, of course, one of your members. You performed so movingly at her funeral and your presence here today is a poignant but welcome one as we recall the life and great loss of Ashling, and of all those women who have lost their lives through gender based violence.

We remember and mourn them, but more importantly we resolve to take whatever action is necessary to eliminate violence against women and to work ever harder to achieve and to strengthen gender equality in our society and in our world.”