Soroptimists ORANGE the world!

25th November marks the UN International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence which ends on 10th December (Human Rights Day). During this time Soroptimists across Ireland will be taking action and calling for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Violence against women is a “devastatingly pervasive” global issue (WHO, 2021). The WHO data illustrates that one in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence, primarily by an intimate partner. A recent EU-wide survey on violence against women found that half of all women have been sexually harassed.

In Ireland, violence against women is a significant issue that has worsened since the pandemic. We have seen 244 women murdered since 1996 (Women’s Aid, 2022), and in resolved cases, 87% of these women were killed by a man known to them. At least 26% of women in Ireland have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15, and 41% of people in Ireland know a woman within their circle of friends and family who are a victim of some form of domestic violence.

In 2020 the Irish government commissioned an audit to examine how effective Ireland’s structures are for policy development and policy implementation in relation to domestic, sexual & gender-based violence, which found that despite some positive developments, there remain policy deficits, ineffective policy implementation, funding gaps, unclear institutional arrangements and responsibilities, and issues with data collection, all of which are hindering Ireland’s progress to tackling gender-based violence. The lack of shelters and safe accommodation for victims of domestic violence also remains an issue.

The COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent economic and societal impact has affected women’s safety. In May 2020, UN Women noted that the levels of violence against women and girls have increased, which they deemed the ‘Shadow Pandemic’ (UN Women, 2020). They noted that the intensified levels of violence against women, especially domestic violence, since the start of the pandemic were due to a range of factors. These include concerns about security, health, money and employment; alcohol and drug use/misuse; cramped living conditions; relationship conflict; isolating with abusers; movement restrictions, and; deserted public.

Data shows that since the start of COVID-19, there has been an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines in many countries. In Ireland, figures showed that the Gardaí received approximately 43,000 calls regarding domestic abuse incidents in 2020, a 16% increase on 2019 figures. A report from Safe Ireland showed that during Ireland’s initial lockdown between March and August 2020, 33,941 helpline calls were answered (an average of 184 per day), with 3,450 women and 589 children having contacted a domestic violence service for the first time. During the second lockdown, from September to December 2020, 23,336 helpline calls were answered (an average of 191 calls per day), and around 2,018 women and 550 children received support from a domestic violence service for each of those months.

It is clear there should be a stronger focus on challenging the attitudes and behaviours that underpin gender-based violence. By highlighting, the UN Orange the World Campaign, Soroptimists throughout Ireland hope to achieve this.