Her name was Ashling, and she went for a run. Ashling went for a run on a Wednesday in January, at four o’clock in the afternoon in a very public place. And she was murdered. Ashling Murphy, a 24-year-old schoolteacher from the very heart of Ireland, was murdered in January 2022 in our Europe. She was not the first woman to be killed this year on our continent, nor will she be the last.
This horrendous crime has had deep resonance across Ireland and Europe, because it is yet another example of the ongoing violence against women. It is the same violence against women that the European Parliament discusses in plenary almost every session. And yet, change only comes very slowly.
Statistically, we know from a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that every ten years, the equivalent of the population of a city the size of Marseille, Amsterdam or Zagreb disappears from the world. How? Because every year, an estimated 87,000 women worldwide are killed, 50,000 of them by an intimate partner or family member. We call this femicide - when women are killed just because they are women.
“Education can be an immediate and ongoing effort in our pledge to say, ‘No more’”
This must end. The women of Europe are sick of it; sick of looking over their shoulders when they walk home at night, sick of sending photographs of taxi number plates to their friends, and sick of carrying their keys between their fingers, to provide a weapon in case they are attacked. It may sound dramatic, but it is not. Every woman has a similar story to tell and similar tactics that they rely on regularly. It is time for this to end.
Therefore, this International Women’s Day, I eagerly await the publication of the European Commission’s proposals to prevent and combat specific forms of gender-based violence. I expect the proposal to be wide-ranging, covering all forms of violence including physical, sexual, psychological and financial. I hope it will also take into account such horrific and systemic violence as female genital mutilation and trafficking of women. This proposal must be comprehensive in what it addresses as violence, and also it must have teeth.
The aim of criminalisation of any act is, in the first instance, to act as a deterrent. Without a genuine fear of strong repercussions, criminalisation is worthless. This proposal cannot leave any room for manoeuvre, and it must be tough and clear: any form of violence against women is unacceptable, and will lead to serious consequences for any perpetrator.
Yet we know that legislation can only provide one strand in our battle against this horrific phenomenon. Violence against women is endemic, systemic and cultural, and it is only by breaking through those systemic and cultural structures that can we overcome this issue. Therefore, a comprehensive approach to combatting this type of crime is essential, and it needs to start at the earliest ages, in the home, at pre-school and later through formal education. Respect for all should be an essential part of all children’s education.
Yet we cannot wait one or two generations for change, and much of this work can be done from local level, with European support. Education, awareness and information campaigns are absolutely essential, featuring everything from posters in bars, sports clubs and restaurants, to local events and information sessions. Education can be an immediate and ongoing effort in our pledge to say, “No more”.
“Put simply, we need more male champions standing with us”
To do so, we must acknowledge the role of men in ending this silent pandemic. If we are to truly succeed in tackling the scourge of gender-based violence, we must take the burden off the shoulders of women and place it onto those of men. Put simply, we need more male champions standing with us.
Yet for those who are victims of gender-based violence, we must ensure that all possible support is available, both legally and in terms of resources. As Minister for Justice in Ireland, I introduced legislation ensuring that temporary barring orders are available to victims of domestic violence, making it possible for them to have a degree of reprieve from the everyday terror that is their reality, to allow them the time to make a calm decision about what to do next.
I believe that legal arrangements such as these, when combined with resources such as emergency shelters and family supports, can help the victims of domestic and gender-based violence in their lowest moments. National governments have a responsibility to make sure that such legal and social structures are in place.
In her first address as President to the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola said that we stand on “the shoulders of Ashling, Paulina and all the other women whose lives have already been stolen this year”. I hope that 2022 will be the year that that list grows no further, and that in the shortest possible time, Europe becomes the first continent to eradicate gender-based violence.