We must believe suffering women

This firmly and wholeheartedly remains a man’s world. The notion that it’s become something other than that has been largely peddled by men for whom, in the natural course of events, the finish line is a few furlongs closer than it is for younger, fitter generations. The notion that women are “taking over” this country when our President, Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Chief Justice and Garda Commissioner are all male is patently nonsensical.
And one has to wonder if women had been “in charge” of this State since first winning the right to vote only 100 years ago, would they have plunged us into Civil War and, on more than once occasion, economic disaster?
Perhaps the course of history might have taken a few different turns had this been a country where women’s primary role for centuries was something other than having babies, to keep the house tidy, the shirts starched, the spuds boiled and the man of the home happy.

Margaret Martin (Women’s Aid Director) and Virgin Media’s Elaine Crowley, highlighting a radio, online and poster campaign the charity ran in 2015.

Margaret Martin (Women’s Aid Director) and Virgin Media’s Elaine Crowley, highlighting a radio, online and poster campaign the charity ran in 2015.

Thankfully, things have moved on in Ireland. We’re a more tolerant society than we were in the days when, for example, a priest would stand in a pulpit and tell the congregation what the Christmas dues received from each family in the parish amounted to. But, when it comes to the main religion practiced in this State, while women are good enough to clean the sacristy, give Communion to Mass goers and the sick and ensure a parish remains a relevant social entity, they cannot lead a congregation as Priest.

The Church of Ireland has no such issue and look how much richer their faith community has become with women in full-time ministry: in Dean Maria Jansson, Waterford is superbly served by a woman of great conviction and compassion. While life is, in the majority of instances, better for women in this country now than it has been at any point in our history, we’ve not yet reached milk and honey territory, as Women’s Aid Director Margaret Martin recently provided a stark reminder of.

“Every day in Ireland women are beaten, raped and abused by those closest to them – their boyfriends, husbands and partners. One in five women in the Republic of Ireland experience domestic violence and it can affect any woman from any walk of life.” One in five women. Just think about that. The 2016 Census determined that there were 2,407,437 women living in the State, which, using Women’s Aid figures, would suggest that almost 482,000 women in Ireland have experienced domestic violence.

We all, in most cases, unwittingly know someone who is being subjected to a form of maltreatment that most of us only witness in TV dramas or public awareness campaigns. It also means we almost all know at least one ‘street angel’, a man who is doling out this type of punishment as a matter of routine. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge men who are the victims in abusive relationships, with the Amen charity noting that in 2016, it received almost 5,200 disclosures of domestic abuse, 72 per cent of which were of a verbal and/or psychological nature. However, this crime is something which far more women than men are subjected to in this country, and that’s a distinction worth making.

Margaret Martin continued: “We understand how difficult it is for women experiencing domestic abuse to talk about what is happening. Many women are afraid that they will not be believed or that they will be blamed for the abuse. Others struggle to find the words to describe their situation. All too often, women feel alone and isolated, unaware that help is available or unable to make sense of what is being done to them.”
Nobody should have the pattern of their day determined by the mood or temper of someone else, but that’s the reality facing victims of domestic violence, some of whom are financially trapped in the clutches of their husband/partner.

Upping sticks and getting away from a thug might sound perfectly reasonable as a purely physical function, but when there are children to consider, when you don’t have a strong, extended family network and in cases where there really is nowhere to go, the world becomes a very small place. “A common reaction to a woman speaking about her experience of domestic violence is to focus on her credibility, her actions and her behaviour,” said Margaret Martin. “Society analyses and judges her choices. Unhelpful speculation can include suggestions that she is lying or that her actions may have provoked the abuse. This is typical of a ‘victim blaming’ mentality which focuses on the behaviour of the woman, rather than the perpetrator of the abuse. Blaming is something that abusers will often do to make excuses for their behaviour. This is part of the pattern of abuse. Sometimes abusers manage to convince their victims that they are to blame for the abuse.”

Relationships founder for all sorts of reasons, but most do not end via the end of a fist. Abuse takes on many guises – one can never adequately measure how deep a psychological wound is inflicted by the words of a bully – but a bloodied, bruise face is rarely worn by a lying woman. As Margaret Martin put it: “Many women who ring the organisation talk about the importance of being believed.”This country ought to be a much colder house for the ‘tough fella’. It should also show more compassion to those women who suffer at the hands of cowards, those who ought to face the full rigour of the law for behaviour which is anything but manly.

The Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline is 1800-341-900 (www.womensaid.ie, #BelieveSurvivors)

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