International Women’s Day: Each for equal freedom from violence

This International Women’s Day, AkiDwA is proud to host a guest post from researcher Carol Ballantine, who discusses the violence migrant women experience and the work done so far by AkiDwA to raise the voices of survivors. Carol has recently completed her PhD in Gender, Globalisation and Rights at the School of Political Science and Sociology, NUI Galway.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Way is: “An Equal World is an Enabled World”. We are reminded that each one of us has a unique and essential part to play in bringing about equality. Taking individual responsibility is important, as is holding one another to account; but luckily there are supports to make this easier. I am thinking, in this, of the debt that we all owe in Ireland to AkiDwA for making it possible to promote migrant women’s equal right to freedom from violence. In the course of doing my recently-completed PhD on the subject of African women’s narratives of violence, I was repeatedly confronted by AkiDwA’s leadership in a context of silence.

Contemporary Ireland has come a very long way in the past twenty years. There is a far greater political and professional recognition of the phenomenal toll that violence against women takes on our society. The ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence on last year’s International Women’s Day was a highlight, although much remains to be done to give that legislative act practical meaning. The state of knowledge on the subject remains very partial. The only nationally representative statistics that we have on lifetime experiences of intimate partner or sexual violence are drawn from a 2014 multi-country study carried out by the European Fundamental Rights Agency. This incredibly important research study shows that one in four women in Ireland has experienced at least one form of violence in her adult life, since the age of 15. However, it doesn’t tell us a lot about who those women are, beyond their age and level of education. It doesn’t tell us how other layers of social difference affect women’s vulnerability to violence and its impacts. These layers of difference include race, class and migration status.

It’s thanks to AkiDwA that we have additional information of this kind. In the absence of comprehensive, detailed data about the violence against women in Irish society, over the past twenty years AkiDwA has been responsible for providing unique insight and information on migrant women’s experiences. When I came to develop my PhD research, AkiDwA publications and events were my first, and often only, port of call.

Indeed, one of the first things I became aware of as I started researching violence against women in Ireland was what was dubbed our #VAWGDataCrisis. It is no surprise that Ireland currently only has a fraction of the refuge beds recommended by the Istanbul Convention, when really we have so little data on the extent of the crisis of violence against women. But just because we don’t have data doesn’t mean we don’t understand or know about the crisis: victims and survivors speak their truths all the time, wherever they find themselves. And AkiDwA listens. While the process of designing and implementing a nationwide sexual violence survey continues at a disturbingly slow pace, I am grateful to AkiDwA for continuing to provide the descriptive accounts that bring the reality of violence a bit closer to the public conversation.

They do this, first and foremost, by providing a space of solidarity and trust for migrant women to come together and define the issues that affect them. Much of the literature that I have drawn on in my research is in the form of reports which in turn arose from seminars, meetings and often subsequent focus group discussions. As far back as 2006, noting the gap in domestic violence services for women outside of the white Irish mainstream, AkiDwA worked with Women’s Aid and the Immigrant Council of Ireland to produce a report on the needs of Black and minority ethnic women experiencing intimate partner violence. In the following years, AkiDwA carried out workshops, stakeholder surveys and focus groups to document the lives of migrant women, including the ways that violence affected them.

As a result, it is a matter of record that the enforced poverty and isolation of the asylum system renders women vulnerable to violence: both in their own intimate and family relationships, and in the public sphere. AkiDwA has given women the space to describe their own experiences of kerb crawling and being propositioned by Irish men outside Direct Provision centres, the fear that they feel of sexual violence within the institutions they live in and outside of them. And AkiDwA has given women the space to share their approaches to rescuing themselves in these situations. A 2012 collection of migrant women’s personal stories of domestic violence is just as important as statistical information, allowing individuals to take charge of their own compelling narratives, and providing perspective on the determination behind the pain.

This fastidious, courageous truth-telling characterizes much of AkiDwA’s work, none more so than the work they have done to create a conversation in Ireland about female genital mutilation, leading in 2012 to the passing of legislation to criminalise the execution of this act. This is a perfect example of one type of violence against women which goes under the mainstream public health radar and thrives in silence. It demonstrates the importance of careful listening and careful documentation at all levels of our changing society.

There is much that we still don’t know. The impact of protracted austerity on women who are marginalized by their race or migration status has yet to be documented. The extent of forced marriage among women in living Ireland is a matter of speculation. Researchers have barely scratched the surface on the nature of racism and discrimination within our public services. Equality demands that we continue seeking more and better information about how violence creates a drag on our society. I am grateful to AkiDwA for continuing to provide such information, respectfully, intentionally, determinedly.

Research and reports cited in this article:

No Place to Call Home – stakeholder survey 2012

Assessing the Needs of Black & Minority Ethnic Women 2006 – Seminar report

Am Only Saying it Now 2010 women seeking asylum in Ireland

Understanding Gender Based Violence an African Perspective 2010

We lived to tell – Migrant Women’s Personal experiences of DV 2012


Categories: Blog