Guest post by Unite and SWP member.
An edited version appeared on the Irish SWP website
According to an EU report released in May of this year, violence against women is pervasive throughout Ireland and indeed all of Europe. Although a number of news stories covered the report, for all the outrage displayed by RTE about the statistics it was little more than insincere pandering to a concerned audience. One of the ways Ireland could be taking a stand against violence against women and provide protection to all victims of domestic and intimate partner violence would be by ratifying the Istanbul Convention. This convention and the need to sign weren’t mentioned once, a glaring absence as this May was also the 3rd year anniversary of the opening of this convention for signatures.
The convention aims at criminalising things like forced marriage, stalking, harassment and all forms of violence, physical and psychological. It also characterizes violence against women1 as a human rights violation and a form of discrimination. As of August 1st 2014, it has come into effect in the 36 countries listed as signatories.
The reason for our State’s delay of signing and ratification is due to a conflict with regards to property law: Article 52 of the convention calls for the availability of emergency barring orders for victims of domestic violence, but this simply isn’t possible with current Irish law. The right of the abuser to gain entry to their property trumps the right to safety for the abused. This is a huge problem, as many victims of domestic violence are often financially dependent on the abuser and will have no means to access other accommodation, particularly so now that front line services like refuges and shelters have had state funding slashed. It is abhorrent for a state to place its responsibility to an abusive property owner above that of the 26% of the female population that this convention could aid.
This hypocritical hand-wringing over the EU report becomes even more obvious when you start to examine the role the state plays in advancing violence against women.
While the convention gives a means to combat this crisis by targeting perpetrators, this is not enough. According to the EU report almost nine out of every ten women will not report violence carried out against them. Since this convention is only useful to women who have the means or will to report, it proves ineffective in nine out of ten cases. Some of the main reasons women do not report are: a fear that they will unleash further violence against themselves by reporting; a fear that they will not be taken seriously by the authorities; that re-victimisation will occur at the hands of the authorities; that authorities will use their reporting to bring legal proceedings against them in the form of deportation or prostitution charges; and knowledge of the stigma of sex crimes hanging with the survivor rather than perpetrator. The convention does not address any of these issues or many other reasons for non-reporting.
Violence against women is so pervasive because of the underlying cultural attitude that women are lesser or somehow inferior. The Irish state has done much to perpetuate this notion. Ireland is a country that still refuses to take responsibility for the atrocities carried out on women by the state, like symphysiotomies, the asylums and laundries, and even now will allow a rape survivor to be force fed in order to carry a foetus long enough to warrant a C-section. For evidence of the disregard the ruling class’ judicial system has towards women, we need only look towards cases of prosecuting judges openly worrying more about the impact a rape charge will have on a rapist’s business over having any empathy with the woman victim.
When the state removes the autonomy of women “for their own good”, when it carries out acts of violence against women’s bodies, and when state officials belittle and downplay women’s experiences, can it be surprising that nine out of ten women who face violence in their private lives feel they cannot turn to the authorities to help them.
The fact that Ireland’s response to the Istanbul Convention is to prioritise property rights over the safety of women is an express display of the subjugation of women for the benefit of capitalism. Women are one of the many “othered” scapegoats of the capitalist system, like LGBTQ identifying individuals, migrant workers, and any minority group. Violence is both a side effect of this oppression as well as being a means for the status quo to reinforce itself through fear.
One of the main ways that women are demoted to a secondary class status is through social reproduction, the upkeep and maintenance of its present and future workers.
Capitalism changed the structure and understanding of what a family is, from a large extended familial group to that of the nuclear patriarchal unit, as a means of social reproduction and consumption. It then firmly placed women at the centre of this unit on the basis of a heteronormative and cis view of reproduction, meaning a woman/mother births and cares for children while taking care of all household labour for the benefit of the man/worker. Although reliant on social reproduction, the capitalist system is unwilling to facilitate it by providing a domestic wage for household work, suitable paid parental leave, nursing and childcare facilities at workplaces, etc. This led to the devaluing of work done in the domestic sphere associated with women, and as a result, women themselves and all work they do became undervalued.
Though feminists and LGBTQ activists within many organisations have battled hard to dismantle the hetero-centric construct of the family and thereby the need for social reproduction in a capitalistic sense, as well as for the right to work and wage parity, women are still constrained by this structure in their everyday lives. Traditionally feminized professions, like teaching and nursing, are still devalued, with the upper echelons remaining firmly male-dominated. Even within the same professions women still earn 13.9%2 less than men, and for many women the double shift of housework and childcare is a reality once they have finished their “real” job for the day. This double shift and the expectation that women partake in it is still used as an excuse to cover lack of promotion, wage stagnation and to feed women into part time, semi-skilled positions under the guise of “family-friendly flexible hours”. This is how social reproduction defines and constrains the role of women within the labour market.
Although huge improvements have been made and are being made in labour law, it is a patchwork job which tries to fill long existing gaps with limited success. When a woman can expect to earn the same as a man in the same job, has the same economic freedoms and when her work in the workplace or the home has its full value recognised; the country will be that much closer to eradicating gendered violence. But it is only through women getting involved in unions, the political sphere and actively challenging state imposed sexism in the workplace or in their lack of choices throughout society; that the proliferation of violence against women can begin to be remedied.
1The convention expressly refers to the term “woman” as meaning anyone identifying as a woman. It has provisions that cover LGBTQ identifying women, being non-discriminatory in tone. It also has provisions for migrant or asylum seeking women regardless of immigration status and ethnic and racial minority groups.
2Active union membership has been shown to half the wage gap across industries.
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