While we’ve been battling Covid-19, hidden away in the homes has been a “pandemic within a pandemic”. Cases of domestic violence and abuse have skyrocketed, with 27,000 cases reported to the gardai by August this year. Women’s Aid reported a 43% increase in calls to their helpline and over 70% more people contacted them through their website than last year. Offaly Domestic Violence Support Services reports as many as 25% of these cases are from first-time callers and Safe Ireland reports that 3,500 women called for help for the first time between the beginning of the first lockdown in March and August.
Worse still, many of the women who reach out are not able to find refuge space as shelters have had to reduce numbers for covid restrictions and because funding “has never been properly resourced to recover from eight years of austerity.” In real terms, this has meant that out of 171 requests for refuge by Women’s Aid, 84 were denied because they were full. The government launched Operation Faoiseamh in April to prioritise reaching out to past victims and assure them that assistance is there, but when pressed for more resources by Safe Ireland to provide refuge to women and children, they said no.
On top of that, news that 11,000 naked images of women and girls were shared on a Discord server without consent is yet another example of the horrific and traumatic gender-based violence that is all too common. Shockingly, it’s not actually a criminal offence to share naked images without consent, even after the tragic suicide of Dara Quigley following gardai widely sharing naked CCTV footage of her.
While the government is due to introduce legislation on image-based sexual abuse (so-called ‘revenge porn’) and the gardai are doing another round of Operation Faoiseamh all of this underscores the failure of the state to not only protect women and children from harm in the here and now – Safe Ireland’s request was for only €400,000 – but also their housing policy and lack of investment in social welfare programmes means women don’t have the resources they need to leave abusive relationships. And just like with the pandemic, the government was warned in advance what was needed. In early 2019 Women’s Aid reported that we have only ⅓ the refuge capacity of European recommendations and that in 2018 52% of the women who reached out were told there was no safe place to send them.
Moreover, the government’s refusal to fully separate church and state, to remove the barrier of the Catholic Church to implementing nationwide objective sex education, including consent training in every school, makes it much harder to fight the sexism endemic to capitalist society.
Enough is enough
Already before the pandemic hit, women and activists were demanding urgent attention to the violence towards women and nonbinary people, violence that all too often is blamed on the victim. In Ireland, the Repeal movement fostered discussions about full bodily autonomy, not only the right to determine when and whether to have children but also the right to determine what happens to your body by intimate partners as well as strangers. #Metoo #SueMePaddy and #Ibelieveher all erupted just a month before Repeal was won.
The movement in Ireland against all forms of gender-based violence is part of a new global feminist wave in which millions of women have taken to the streets, and in some cases organised mass strike action, to demand abortion rights, justice for victims of sexual violence, and an end to rape culture, femicide, and ‘machismo’ or macho culture that excuses and justifies the violence towards women as part of the normal behaviour of ‘men just being men’, ‘locker room talk’, and so on. Women across the world are rising up to say enough is enough, we want an end to the violence and a world in which no woman fears for her life.
Combatting the violence today
For all the government’s talk, and Varadkar claiming “[domestic violence is] something I’ve an interest in, personally, and that has been a priority of the Government for the last couple of years,” very clearly they don’t see it as an urgent problem. This talk of an ‘epidemic’ in domestic violence yet not providing the funding requested by service providers mirrors their crocodile tears about the housing and homeless epidemic while simultaneously defending their policies as working when dozens of people are literally dying on the streets.
We don’t need more talk about the personal interests of Varadkar, we need policies that will address the violence here and now. No woman or family reaching out for support to leave a violent and abusive situation should be turned away. Service providers have been very clear, we need more funding. If we currently only have ⅓ the refuge capacity as other European countries, we obviously need to triple the funding immediately to make up the gap.
Furthermore, as the pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of sick pay in allowing workers to stay home and reduce the spread of the virus, all workers (as well as people not currently formally employed, such as women working in the home) should have access to paid leave for domestic violence. Lack of financial freedom is a key reason women and victims can’t leave abusive situations. In fact, one study found that 60% of domestic violence survivors lost their jobs and another found that 88% of victims stayed in the relationship because “they had nowhere to go” and 77% stayed because they were “financially dependent on their abuser.” So far only 3 countries in the world, New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines offer paid domestic violence leave to all workers. Sinn Fein’s recently reintroduced bill to provide workers with 10 days paid leave should be fully supported.
The trade unions must also take up this issue, bring their resources and potential power to the fight against domestic violence and make clear that an injury to one is an injury to all. That starts with campaigning for a living wage, €15 an hour, and sick pay, as well as fully paid parental leave and high-quality free childcare. Women overwhelmingly are responsible for unpaid labour in the home, many times working a second shift in the home after labouring long hours in the workplace. ICTU should instigate a campaign to unionise feminised industries (that is workplaces that are comprised of a disproportionate number of women). These would include care and service jobs like hotels, homecare, childcare, servers and bartenders, shop assistants. Alongside that, an education campaign should also be launched to inform workers about the prevalence of domestic violence in society, why this is a trade union issue, and the power of organised workers to both demand action now and ultimately stamp it out.
While it won’t stop all instances of it, combatting sexual harassment, violence, and rape should include education in our schools and colleges. In 2018 Paul Murphy and Solidarity-People Before Profit TDs introduced an Objective Sex Education Bill that was LGBTQ+ affirming and included consent training. But the government manoeuvred to block it with the ‘money-message’ and so we are left with a situation where the vast majority of young people aren’t getting the sex and consent education they need. Comments by the then Minister for Education, Joe McHugh that “The freedom of religious schools to determine what they consider is appropriate sex education for their children will be protected in future,” shows the government did not want to battle the Catholic Church, which still owns and controls 90% of primary and 50% of secondary schools. For this and many other reasons, we demand church is removed from our public schools and full separation of church and state.
Lastly, more funding for civil legal aid services and reforming the justice system to ensure victims aren’t forced to wait endlessly could also help alleviate some of the burdens on survivors. In 2019 the Legal Aid Board received roughly ⅔ (€40.796m) the funding directed to criminal legal aid (€68m). Keep in mind this tiny sum is meant to assist all civil legal aid, which includes cases ranging from asylum cases to divorce and domestic violence. So if you need a safety/protection/barring order (not harassment order) and can’t afford a lawyer you’ve to either represent yourself in court or rely on poorly funded civil legal aid.
Long delays are a big part of what makes the process traumatising for survivors who have to dig up what happened months or even years later and relive the experience for the record. (The average wait time for a rape trial is 14 months!) In some instances, survivors end up ‘dropping’ the case because of the excessive wait time. Increasing the funding for the courts to process cases promptly and prioritising them so they are dealt with faster would help victims achieve justice faster, allowing them to move on, heal, and rebuild their lives.
There are many policies trade unions and activists can demand and fight for that would remove more financial barriers for women fleeing violence, such as cancelling mobile phone contracts and housing leases, and we support these measures wholeheartedly. We welcome the government responding to the massive pressure from below and finally addressing the violence done to women, girls, and nonbinary people when their naked images are shared without consent.
At the same time, as socialist feminists, we feel it’s important to underscore the systemic nature of gender-based violence. With sexism deeply embedded in capitalist culture, reproduced in the media, in workplaces, schools, colleges, and ultimately necessitated by a system that profits massively from undervaluing and underpaying women, we know the carceral approach (that is, criminalising behaviour with severe punishments, relying on the police and prisons as the primary way to reduce harm), while importantly deterring in some instances, will not end violence against women. Furthermore, it does nothing to prevent perpetrators from re-offending once they are released from prison. The state should invest in rehabilitation and treatment services aimed at reducing the risk that sex offenders harm more people.
Ultimately, no single policy will prevent all future violence, nor stop that which is already happening daily. We need to pull out the roots of gender-based violence and that means addressing the sexist capitalist system.
Causes of gender-based violence
Why violence is committed against women is not rocket science. It’s down to both the economic and the social oppressions working-class people are forced to endure under capitalism. Many studies conducted found risk factors such as unemployment, poverty, social isolation, inadequate victim care and gender inequality. Studies also show that emergency situations in general, e.g. pandemics, exacerbate the risk factors for domestic violence.
In Ireland during the last economic crisis, ‘there was a 21 percent rise in 2008 of the number of women who accessed domestic violence services compared to 2007, the number rose even further in 2009, up 43 percent from 2007 figures.’ The policies implemented by the Fianna Fáil/Green government, followed by the Fine Gael/Labour government – cuts to social programmes, cuts to lone parents, refusal to invest in jobs, in housing, and increased taxes on working people to pay the bankers and bondholders – led to increased violence. But since it was hidden away in the homes, it’s not usually part of the conversation around the effects of austerity.
The same is true of housing policy. As Tithi Bhattacharya points out, “…[post-2008 financial crisis] a significant contributor to the rise in intimate partner violence has been the financial stress associated with mortgage arrears and foreclosures, or in the language of social reproduction, due to the annihilation of a safe shelter as one of the basic components of reproducing the laboring body.” The connection between domestic violence and the housing crisis could not be more clear. Lockdown stay-at-home orders add even more urgency to the demand to build more public housing now.
Tearing out the roots
Beyond all the policies we must fight for in the here and now, ending gender-based violence starts by eradicating the conditions in which it festers and grows. Capitalism did not create patriarchy, it inherited it from the feudal class system, moulded it to suit its purposes, and then generation after generation reproduced the conditions for sexism to thrive and with it, sexual harassment, abuse, and violence to occur. Indeed, sexism isn’t just an appendage of the capitalist system, it is part of the foundation upon which rampant gender inequality and exploitation are built.
Women’s unpaid labour in the home, all the cooking, cleaning, childcare and emotional energy needed to rear a new generation of workers, to care for elderly family members, is vital to capital accumulation, just as our labour in the office, the lab, the cafe, and on the shop floor is necessary for profit-making. The two together – social reproductive labour and labour in the workplace – keep capitalism going, and also underscores the power workers have to shut it down and stop reproducing a system which breeds such horrific social and environmental ills. We have the power and collective class interests to both tear out the roots of capitalism and to plant a new socialist society based on equality, solidarity, and democratic collective ownership of all our resources.
We would decommodify all the vital goods and services necessary to live a good life: housing, childcare, healthcare, energy/communications, and transport. This would remove the main financial burdens on individuals and families, allowing us to explore more creative areas of work, rather than the drudgery and monotony that is work today. It would free individuals from the pressure to stay in relationships longer than they really want for financial reasons, opening up the possibility for people to engage in real consensual relationships, without coercion and harm.
✅ Emergency funding for safe refuge and services – triple funding to make up the gap
✅ Paid domestic violence leave – lack of financial freedom is a key reason women and victims can’t leave abusive situations
✅ Objective, pro-LGBTQ+ sex and consent education in schools and colleges
✅ Invest in sexual assault treatment units, counselling for survivors and rehabilitation for offenders
✅ A minimum living wage of €15 an hour, paid sick leave, and fully paid parental leave
✅ Clear the housing waiting lists and provide housing for all who need it – build 100,000 near-zero carbon public homes in 3 years
✅ Free, high-quality, public childcare
✅ More funding for civil legal aid services and for the courts to process cases promptly, prioritising them so they are dealt with faster to ensure victims aren’t forced to wait endlessly.
✅ Trade union campaigns to organise feminised workplaces and an education campaign to inform workers about the prevalence of domestic violence in society and the power of organised workers to both demand action now and ultimately stamp it out
✅ Get the churches out of public schools and health system – separate church and state
✅ Decommodify all essential goods and services: housing, childcare, healthcare, energy/communications, and transport
25 Nov 2020
Republished from Rise