Last year, at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict held in London, Irish Minister Joe Costello made some heartfelt comments when talking about the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the young women who had been raped to death in India:
“Gender based violence is the most pervasive - yet least recognised - human right abuse in the world. It is now time to act. Women’s voices must be heard. We must translate our global commitments into concrete actions to ensure that women and girls can reach their full potential and live a life free from fear”.
As someone, who grew up in Ireland in the 60s & 70s, in what was a very unequal and repressive environment for women, I am genuinely impressed at the societal changes which have taken place there and how most Irish people have embraced Ireland's role in the arena of human rights globally.
Seeing the rapidity of this social change gives hope for the future. Those countries in which sexual violence is most savage can also undergo positive change, if the tools for transformation are made available.
The following is a quotation from a press release issued by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs during the summit:
"Preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women is an essential part of Ireland’s development cooperation programme, Irish Aid. Ireland’s policy on international development, One World, One Policy describes gender-based violence as “a major abuse of human rights, which can have serious impacts on women’s health, well-being and livelihoods”.
Irish Aid is committed to tackling gender-based violence in our partner countries, including Uganda, Zambia, Timor Leste, South Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mozambique. This includes delivering healthcare, counselling and other services to survivors of gender based violence (GBV), developing and implementing legislation on GBV, engaging men in programmes to prevent GBV, and building awareness of the impact of this violence among communities.
Irish Aid is an active member of the Irish Consortium on Gender-Based Violence, which is a unique collaboration between Irish humanitarian, development and human rights agencies, and the Irish Defence Forces. The Consortium counts Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as patron"
Ireland has come a long way since the time of the Magdalene Laundries....
In 1970s Ireland here are some examples of what Irish women couldn't do (quoted from an article by journalist Fintan O'Toole) :
Keep their jobs in the public service or in a bank once they married
Women who worked in the civil service had to resign from their jobs when they became wives.
Sit on a jury
Any Irish citizen who sat on a jury had to be property owners according to the 1927 Juries Act, thus excluding the majority of women.
According to the 1935 Criminal Law Amendment Act, the import, sale and distribution of contraceptives was illegal. As a result the majority of women had no access to contraceptives....
Women were unable to get a barring order against a violent partner
Before 1976 they were unable to own their home outright
According to Irish Law, women had no right to share the family home and her husband could sell their property without her consent.
Women could not refuse to have sex with their husband
A husband had the right to have sex with his wife and consent was not an issue in the eyes of the law.
In a generation this changed, largely I believe, because of increased integration with Europe and greater exposure to global media & culture.
There is a ground swell of opinion which rejects sexual violence and as artists and curators we can be facilitators of change.