Acting to Understand and Prevent VAW: learning from the SAFE Ireland Summit, 2016

SAFE Ireland is a membership organization working with 40 direct service providers for domestic violence victims and survivors. Its mission is to make Ireland a safer place by improving the response to violence against women and children through creating culture change, providing evidence-based guidance and supporting policy and legislation development for prevention and response. As part of its five-year strategic plan to end domestic violence in Ireland, SAFE Ireland launched the 2016 SAFE Ireland Summit on November 14th and 15th, bringing together over 20 experts to discuss strategies to reach this goal and to “make Ireland the safest country in the world”, including the Principal Investigator of Component 3 of the What Works to Prevent Violence programme. The following post provides details of day one of the Summit.

The opening keynote speaker was Maria Dempsey, who gave a brave and emotional account of her own personal experience of domestic violence and homicide. In 2010, Maria’s daughter, Alicia was murdered, as was her friend Sarah and her two young children, Reece and Amy, by Sarah’s ex-partner. She asked what we can do to make sure deaths like these, the deaths of women and children through domestic violence, are prevented. Taking steps like making sure we are recognizing and recording these victims, and classifying them as domestic homicides to give ourselves an accurate look at the scope of this endemic problem. Maria received a standing ovation from the audience and her stand for ‘social justice, peace and love’ set the tone for the rest of the day’s proceedings.

Maria’s suggestion of collecting accurate data on the scope of the problem and its impacts was a theme throughout the event. A session on Turning Data into Understanding had speakers address the need for registering the murders of women and the reasons they were murdered; of looking at the data to find effective solutions in the criminal justice system for ending the cycles of violence; of looking at the physical, mental, and economic costs of violence against women. From the National University of Ireland, Galway and Component Three, What Works to Prevent Violence: Economic and Social Costs of VAWG, Dr. Nata Duvvury spoke about the significant financial costs to countries and women caused by violence against women and the need for government policies to proactively address this and support these strategies to end gender based violence.

The social justice aspect of Maria’s speech was reflected very clearly in a segment on Disrupting what is Political, with speakers talking about how social movements, awareness, and challenging violations through the legal system can all create change and bring justice. Particularly inspiring were talks by Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland and founder of One in Four, who talked about coming forward with his experience of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and how this brought to light the multitude of similar cases and the result of suing the Catholic Church for these abuses. Additionally, Mona Eltahaway, Award-Winning Columnist, talked about her own experiences of abuse at the hands of the government while fighting against injustices and how it is everyone’s responsibility to not get comfortable in their status but to use this status to fight injustices against others.

While it was challenging to hear these stories of violence perpetrated against individuals, it was inspiring to see the responses and strategies to prevent similar cases in the future. To see people taking action to do the research, and to examine and build future solutions based on this research. To hear about the grassroots activism taking place to create culture change, and to shape the future response to these crimes. To witness people working within the legal system to create systematic change in governmental prevention and response.

Blog Post written by Rachel Apfelbaum, MA Gender, Globalisation and Rights, Centre for Global Women’s Studies, NUI Galway and co-authored by Jenny Liston, MA Gender, Globalisation and Rights, Centre for Global Women’s Studies, NUI Galway.

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