The Workers Party has made a formal submission to the Department of Justice’s consultation on a strategy to address Domestic and Sexual Abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls.
During 2020-2021, police responded to 31,196 domestic abuse incidents in Northern Ireland. There were also 3,335 sexual offences and yet much of the extent and impact of domestic and sexual abuse remains hidden.
The Party’s submission highlighted the fact that, as we enter the sixth year of the current seven year strategy, very little progress has been achieved since 2016.
While recognising that domestic and sexual abuse knows no boundaries factors such as class, cultural, ethnicity and sexual orientation increased the vulnerability of women and girls.
Financial abuse was rightly identified in the Department’s consultation document as a form of coercive behaviour but the Party’s submission took this further, going on to identify policies which condemn women and girls to exist on inadequate benefits, low pay and inferior terms and conditions of service as equally culpable. Zero-hour contracts and precarious employment can also be a form of violence and abuse.
The submission also called for adequate and ring fenced funding to ensure implimentation of the strartegy and for the Assembly to be the statutory provider for safe housing and hostel accommdation.
The extent and consequences of misogyny – the contempt and hatred of women – has been brought into sharp focus by the recent murders in Plymouth.
Despite re-assuring statements that events like this are rare, the reality is that hate crime, its levels, intensity and effects, is a brutally regular experience for many people here.
For some reason, the myth persists that hate crime is not a serious issue in Northern Ireland. The reality is significantly different.
Facts & figures
Even a cursory examination of the statistics reveals the extent of the problems. Since 2007 there have been more the 17,000 sectarian incidents reported to the police. The actual figure, as with all hate crime, will be much higher.
In the same period, more than 1,000 race motivated incidents were recorded for seven of those years, and at least 3,000 reports of homophobic incidents were logged. Not a week has passed since 2007 withoutand multiple incidents of religious, disability or transphobic hate incidents being reported.
However, as the Plymouth murders have demonstrated, women are as much, if not more so, the subject of a persistent and deadly hate crime regime.
It is thought that, at some stage of their lives, 30% of women in Northern Ireland are subjected to psychological abuse in a relationship and that one woman in every six suffers violence at the hands of their partner.
The rates of femicide in Northern Ireland in 2017 were the highest in the whole of Europe, per head of population. In the past year alone, domestic violence has claimed the lives of nine women.
While there is legislation in place to address incidents of hate crime and, albeit limited, domestic violence legislation in force there is no overarching strategy to address and overcome the protection of women and young girls from violence.
Despite a private members bill in the Assembly, and promises from the Department of Justice, we remain the only part of these islands that does not have such a strategy.
Not only does that legislation need to be progressed as a matter of urgency but it also needs to be shaped with significant input from women and girls to ensure that it provides the appropriate direction and meets their needs.
However, legislation alone, vital as it is, will not be enough to overcome a culture which sees women and girls as objects and commodities and tolerates misogyny and prejudicial gender-based attitudes.
Nor will it be overcome for as long as we are subject to a capitalist economic and social system which has an intrinsic self interest in sustaining and perpetuating gender discrimination in its pursuit of profits, lower wages and working-class division.
Only a society grounded in socialist principles and values can secure the role of women, ensure their full participation and recognise their contribution. That is where we need to be.