January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
By almost any standard you may care to mention, violence against women represents the worst, deepest and greatest violence in Ireland, with the possible exception of drug-related feuding and murders. Violence against women affects many more people than drug-feud violence. But we are not having a competition to decide on this issue; violence against women in the way that it currently takes place is intolerable for the women concerned but also for any society, North or South, East or West, which projects itself as having any kind of conscience or caring function.
The term ‘domestic’ violence is normally used to indicate violence against a woman by her male partner in their home. But the term ‘domestic’, summoning up as its does images of domesticity (humdrum normality) is totally inadequate to describe the level of physical and psychological hurt and damage done, both to the woman concerned and, if there are children, almost certainly to any children in the home as well, either directly or indirectly. This violence also stores up future problems for these children in their adult lives, psychologically, including the risk of addiction or in the danger of them, primarily boys, becoming perpetrators themselves.
The recent report “Women’s Experience of Violence: Mapping Experiences and Responses” (produced by Women’s Centres Regional Partnership in Northern Ireland and written by Anne McMurray, – some paper copies available, it will also be online ) is a qualitative survey of the kinds of violence suffered by women from men. As such it makes disturbing reading; 72% of the women in the survey had experienced psychological and emotional abuse which involved punishment and disapproval. For 72% emotional control and abuse had escalated to physical violence. 36% of the women profiled had had their life put at risk with the violence used against 33% described (by professionals involved with them) as having a ‘horrific intensity’. 51% experienced financial abuse. 5% of the women were raped in front of others or the children.
For the Republic and internationally, Women’s aid statistics provide a shocking picture of the reality (see ) One in five women in Ireland have experienced domestic violence from a partner or ex-partner. In 2008 there were 15,000 incidents of domestic violence disclosed to the Women’s Aid National Helpline (in the Republic); this included 9,101 incidents of emotional abuse, 3,355 incidents of physical abuse, and 1,900 incidents of financial abuse. In the same year, 802 incidents of sexual abuse were disclosed to Helpline Support Workers including 281 incidents of rape. In the EU, 25% of all violent crimes reported involve a man assaulting his wife or partner, and on average a woman will be assaulted by her partner or ex-partner 35 times before reporting it to the police.
We do recognise that there are other models of violence in the home than men on women. In a small percentage of cases it may be a case of women involved in violence of some kind on their male partners. There may also be same sex relationship violence, especially, given men’s involvement in men on women violence, men on men. These are all important but statistically, in real numbers, it is violence committed by men against women that we are talking about in the main.
The study mentioned above recommends the need to mainstream gender relations education in primary and secondary schools (as well as making available a designated person in a school to whom children and young people can disclose violence in the home). This is important. But also important is wider experiential education in nonviolence and dealing with conflict. The availability of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) model of nonviolence at a personal level (and its model for younger people) provides both a standard and practical ways to live without violence. General conflict education can help individuals in dealing with conflict and the realisation that conflict, if dealt with positively, can be positive and a factor for growth in a relationship; it is also part of life, not something to be afraid of or something that can be stamped out by any means. Violence within a relationship tends to be about control of the other person and this is dehumanising and the opposite of what dealing with conflict should be about. If people – in this context primarily men - learn that conflict, handled positively, can be enriching and not a threat then perhaps they can learn to live without trying to make impossible impositions on women.
The task is a massive one. However cultural change is essential in this area. Drink-driving is no longer tolerated by the great majority of people but it has taken a generation or two for this change to take place. On violence against women by men in the home it seems crazy to even think about taking a generation or two to effect change, given the level and extent of the violence. Urgent action is required though the reality is it will take time to change attitudes. In almost 70% of the cases dealt with in the report above, despite the fact that the man may have known that the violence was ‘wrong’, the perpetrator had a sense of ‘entitlement’ to be violent – he felt he was punishing the woman for doing something wrong – teaching her a lesson, forcing her to do something she did not want to do, or stopping her from doing something she might have wished to do. The relationship is thus seriously awry and lop-sided, and the man’s perception of his role is likewise. There should be immediate moves to set up the positive programmes mentioned above but also to hammer home society’s rejection of violence in the home.
There is the difficulty that home is where people retreat to away from the hustle of life outside, and, barring neighbours seeing or hearing something, men can get away with (the equivalent of) murder in such a private setting. The survey above showed half of the male perpetrators were regarded as ‘likeable, friendly, well thought of by the outside world’. The change must therefore be primarily through a change of hearts and minds to be effective; there are gains for men in moving to an equal, harmonious and respectful relationship with women, and this needs to be part of the educational process. But it must also be backed up with effective intervention and support for women who do find themselves on the wrong end of male violence (not that there is any right end), and, for example, adequate enforcement of non-molestation orders.
To tolerate violence in the home is to tolerate the intolerable. There should be no justification, no entitlement for anyone to exercise violence of any kind, physical, psychological, resource led (control of money) in the home. But at the moment, because society is not doing everything it can to prevent it happening, however good services may be in supporting women who wish to get out of abusive relationships, it is going to continue on and on. Enough is enough, and far too much.
There needs to a far greater thrust in society rejecting violence in personal relationships. And there needs to be the roll out of the kinds of programmes mentioned above, in schools, youth clubs and community and adult education, and also in prisons (where, in the context of the Republic, the Alternatives to Violence Project already works in some prisons), plus greater publicity for programmes that support those men who are either abusive or risk being so and wish to change (see MOVE, which is supported by Cosc in the Republic, “the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence… its remit covers domestic, sexual and gender-based violence against women and men, including older people.” See )
The powers that be may reiterate that there are no resources or certainly no more resources, especially in a time of recession, to support all these kinds of programmes. But where there is a will there is a way and in the face of brutal and dehumanising violence and abuse we definitely need a ‘must do’ attitude. Relationship education, and the other programmes which lead to the humanising of male-female relationships which might otherwise have led to violence, will in the longer term save money in a wide variety of ways but, more importantly, will prevent suffering through violence and also increase well being.
The tools are there to make rapid progress in this area. Let us ask, push and demand our governments to make them available.
The Republic has a written constitution – a particular kind of ‘bill of rights’ - which has been around since 1937 though amended numerous times. While this may at times have slowed up social change, e.g. on the availability of divorce, it has also had its moments such as preventing Fianna Fáil from changing the voting system from PR-STV (Proportional Representation – Single Transferable Vote) to ‘first past the post’ which would have been advantageous to them and disadvantageous to just about everyone else. They had to get their proposals passed at a referendum, as with every other constitutional change, and failed twice. While the Irish constitution shows its age, and has some other aspects out of line with modern times, there is still a feeling that it has served the Southern people fairly well.
The proposed Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland has had a long and bumpy journey and it is far from over yet. Regarding the present situation concerning a Bill of Rights, civil society sectors went through a frantic process to get submissions made to a Forum whose work in turn went to the NI Human Rights Commission (NIHRC). NIHRC then made its proposals to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) which published its consultation paper at the end of last November (the period of consultation on the NIO proposals would have just ended except it has been extended to the end of March). NIHRC in turn has commented on the NIO paper, and did not mince its words; it believes the NIO paper “1. demonstrates a lack of understanding of the purpose and functions of a Bill of Rights 2. fails to take appropriate account of international human rights standards 3. appear to be suggesting the lowering of existing human rights standards……” and so on. The CAJ (Committee on the Administration of Justice) has also called on the NIO proposals to be rejected in their entirety, pointing out, inter alia, the centrality of human rights to the Good Friday Agreement.
We would be in broad agreement with the NIHRC and CAJ analysis. The NIO seem determined to restrict a Bill of Rights to issues concerning the sectarian situation. This is a failure to step beyond the boundaries of these sectarian divisions and provide the best possible protection for people in all their rich reality. The sectarian situation may be an overarching reality in the North but it is not the only reality; all the other issues which exist elsewhere exist there too. The NIO seems to be responding to a caricature of Northern Ireland where only sectarian issues are of importance.
The NIO accepts, for example, the inclusion of the right of freedom from sectarian violence or harassment but does not contemplate including (the recommendations of the NIHRC on) domestic violence or harassment, sexual violence or harassment, gender-related violence or harassment and violence or harassment motivated by hate. The idea that rights should be omitted like this is a very narrow way of responding to the ‘particular circumstances’ of Northern Ireland. Is a woman attacked by her partner not every bit deserving of the protection of the state as someone who is attacked because they are a Catholic or a Protestant? Or someone attacked on grounds of their racial or ethnic identity?
Furthermore, the idea of leaving ‘all other rights’ to a UK-wide bill of rights which may emerge at some point is a recipe for doing nothing and uncertain. It is far better to set a good standard in Northern Ireland and let others follow if they choose. At the moment what is promised is deeply disappointing – and this is doubly disappointing given the work which civil society has done to feed into the process.
Sometimes people on the Protestant and unionist side of the house in Northern Ireland have portrayed ‘human rights’, implicitly or explicitly, as something for nationalists and republicans, or this picture has been portrayed in general. Sensible forward-looking unionist leaders would look to get the best possible Bill of Rights at this stage given that voting demographics may deliver a Catholic, if not nationalist, majority within a couple of decades. And the public at large in Northern Ireland considers human rights important. Consider the footnote from CAJ’s response to the NIO proposals, quoting research by the Human Rights Consortium which indicated 81% of Protestants and 86% of Catholics considered a Bill of Rights important. Furthermore 96-97% of people supported the inclusion of social and economic rights, which obviously means there was very high support across the two communities. If the NIO wants to ‘consult’ the people then it is clear their view is different to what is on offer.
For NIO To respond
For opposed views
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
The present controversy over the reliability of the science on climate change, dubbed the Climategate Scandal, reminds me of the occasion when a young nurse who considered herself saved unwittingly informed me of a perennial wisdom when I asked about the root of her religious belief. She told me that her desire for certainty had prompted her to believe in Jesus Christ through whom salvation from an eternity in Hell was guaranteed.
Religious belief, which by all accounts is reptilian in its ancientness could be said to be predicated on the desire for certainty, for a sense of the solidness of existence, for the assurance that our life and those whom we know and love have a meaning and value that does not end with death. The desire for certainty may also have become part of the human condition through necessity as in the enormous benefits we derive from being able to tell the time accurately. Evidence for this is found in stone-age drawings and Neolithic architecture. In Ireland the oldest device for telling the time is the circular stone structure of Newgrange in County Meath.
In spite of the fervency with which religious beliefs are held, most people’s desire for certainty in their lives is placed in science rather than the corpus of religious texts and traditions. It is against this background of our need for certainty that the significance of the recent revelations about the reliability of the science on climate change is best understood. Science not only tells us about the past and the present but suggests the likely outcomes of our behaviour. It is science that radically changed the attitudes of governments towards tobacco products. It is science that revealed the importance of hygiene before which untold numbers died every year from preventable diseases.
The Climategate Scandal has some worrying consequences. If a sufficient number of opinion formers and decision makers accept the view that science is wrong about climate change then the demand for a carbon-neutral world will remain just an aspiration because governments would be reluctant to impose unpopular restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases.
The lack of scientific rigour by a few climate change scientists has undermined the efforts to reduce the human impact on the climate in much the same way as paedophile priests have undermined the trust of lay Catholics in the moral
The lack of transparency in the data concerning climate change has given moral cover to the millions of people who are loath to change their carbon extravagant life-style. They can now feel justified in invoking the much feared millennium bug that was supposed to wreak organisational havoc on the first day of this century and declare that human-made climate change is nothing but a con. They can also assert that those who promote the view that the world as we know it will end within the foreseeable future because of human behaviour are engaging in scare mongering.
It is worth recalling that the fundamental difference between religion, other belief systems and science is doubt. Unlike the Ten Commandments scientific knowledge is not metaphorically inscribed in stone but is open to revision and change on the basis of empirical evidence. Science is democratic as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) bird-watching projects demonstrate. One does not need a science degree to be a scientist one only need test a hypothesis and submit one’s methodology and findings for scrutiny by others. This means that the climate change hypothesis can be tested by almost anyone with the inclination to do so, albeit at a secondary rather than a primary level.
The recent errors in the climate change data can be accounted for and the overwhelming evidence from scientific research carried out around the world clearly suggests that humans are responsible for the global change in the climate. This can but only mean that if we are the caring, compassionate, community-minded creatures we like to believe we are then we have no option but to behave as responsible eco-citizens and take climate change seriously.
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by Anthony McCann,
In October, 2009, a short talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie was posted on the Ted.com website. In this talk Adichie addressed our vulnerability in the face of stories. In particular, she addressed the power of “single stories” – authoritative, centralized stories that masquerade as the final truth about people and their lives. She spoke of the consequences of the single story: “it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” In Northern Ireland we are faced with a number of competing “single stories”: “Divided communities carry different experiences and understandings of the past in their minds and indeed it is this that divides them. Their accounts of the past differ deeply” (RCGP 2009:24).
Adichie provides a good example of what Winslade and Monk would call “taking stories seriously,” by which they mean, “treating them as having the power to shape experiences, influence mind-sets, and construct relationships” (Winslade and Monk 2008:1). In the context of Northern Ireland the work of story in conflict transformation can allow us to challenge the power of the “single story”, to take stories seriously.
Maureen Hetherington has also written that “Within the field of peace building in Northern Ireland, it has become apparent that the ‘healing work’ has not been adequately dealt with” (Hetherington 2008:51). Even though different groups have competing versions of history in Northern Ireland, it could be argued that those competing narratives have in themselves become our “single story”, “… the conflict-saturated relationship narrative in which people are often stuck” (Winslade and Monk 2008:8). This is understandable. In Northern Ireland, between 100,000-140,000 people live in households where someone has been injured or killed in a Troubles-related incident (Fay et al., 1998, p. 59). It has been suggested that 12% of the Northern Ireland population may be diagnosable with PTSD (Healey 2008:59).
It is within this context that story projects such as An Crann, Towards Understanding and Healing, and Our Story, Our Peace have been developed. At the heart of such projects people trust in the power of story, storytelling, and the voicing of stories in “positive encounter dialogue” to open to the door to the possibilities of change and transformation in the wake of conflict. Story work can provide “a safe space for people to begin to articulate personal stories and also to listen to other stories, or “truths,” in a way that does not diminish their own experience” (Hetherington 2008:42).
It is important to remember, as Jessica Senehi notes, that “storytelling, of course, is not inherently good or peaceful” (2009:203). It is possible to recognise the violent histories of people’s experiences in this place, and also to suggest that the dominance, replaying, and reinforcement of exclusively violent histories may be destructively contributing to what Hutchinson calls “colonisation” of social imagination, or “restrictions on creative thought and creative action in relation to potential reality” (Hutchinson 1996:34). We can challenge the “single story” of Northern Ireland as “a history of violence”. We can imagine differently.
This is where story work comes in: “Through the physical recording of stories and an ongoing storytelling process, opportunities for individual healing and societal healing may emerge, as well as providing a forum for a shared and diverse history” (HTR report cited in Kelly 2005:4). Paul Thompson has written that oral history “gives history back to the people in their own words. And in giving a past, it also helps them towards a future of their own making” (1978:226). Through story work we can challenge some of the ways that many people’s voices can easily get silenced by the lumbering simplistics of single stories casually told as definitive histories. As Johnston McMaster has written: “The lost voices and lost stories not only give us permission to ethically remember and to critically commemorate, they provide us with a counter-story to the dominant discourse of the time” (2008:132).
I am interested here in the possibilities opened up by Winslade and Monk’s mediation technique of “double listening”. Drawing on the work of Michael White, they make note of the “absent but implicit” story of hope that sits alongside the voicing of a story of conflict:
“Mediators can give this story of hope for something better a chance if they first of all hear this absent but implicit hope and then begin to inquire into the story that it is a part of. The story may often by subordinate to the story of the outrage and pain, but it perhaps speaks to the person’s better intentions in relation to the other party. If given the chance for expression, these better intentions can give rise to a different story of the future” (Winslade and Monk 2008:10-11).
The expression of pain and suffering through remembered events and feelings can become a seed for hopeful reflections, not as a utopian aspiration, but as an awareness of the desire for a more positive experience that the pain and conflict reveal. I think the lessons of this “double listening” are not just relevant to formal mediation, but are also helpful in invitations to story more generally. What Winslade and Monk’s work draws attention to is how stories of the past also shape our stories of the future. It may be that “double listening” can further open up what John Paul Lederach (2005) calls the “moral imagination” of peacebuilders, allowing for even deeper understandings of the complexities, paradoxes, and possibilities of conflict transformation.
Chimamanda Adichie. 2009. “The danger of a single story.” Ted.com October 2009. URL: (accessed 7th October, 2009).
Arlene Healey. 2008. “Holding Hope When Working Towards Understanding and Healing.” In Stories in Conflict: Towards Understanding and Healing. Liam O’Hagan, ed. 55-70. Derry/Londonderry: Yes! Publications.
Maureen Hetherington. 2008. “The Role of Towards Understanding and Healing.” In Stories in Conflict: Towards Understanding and Healing. Liam O’Hagan, ed. 39-53. Derry/Londonderry: Yes! Publications.
Francis P. Hutchinson. 1996. Educating Beyond Violent Futures. London: Routledge.
Gráinne Kelly. 2005. ‘Storytelling’ Audit. Healing Through Remembering.
J. P. Lederach. 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford: OUP.
Johnston McMaster. 2008. “Ethical Remembering: Commemoration in a New Context.” In Stories in Conflict: Towards Understanding and Healing. Liam O’Hagan, ed. 127-138. Derry/Londonderry: Yes! Publications.
Report of the Consultative Group on the Past. 2009.
Jessica Senehi. 2009. “Building Peace: Storytelling to transform conflicts constructively.” 201-214. In Handbook of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Dennis J.D. Sandole, Sean Byrne, Ingrid Sandole-Staroste and Jessica Senehi, eds. London: Routledge.
Paul Thompson. 1978. The Voice of the Past: Oral History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
John Winslade and Gerald Monk. 2008. Practicing Narrative Mediation: Loosening the Grip of Conflict. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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In one of our occasional interviews (pdf), Rob Fairmichael talked to Joe Murray in Afri’s office in Dublin
Joe Murray has been involved with peace and justice issues in Dublin and around Ireland for a long time, his primary identification having been with Afri. In this 4½ page interview, he reflects on the influences which shaped his personal direction growing up and as an adult, including his parents, Kimmage Manor development education, and the anti-apartheid Dunnes Stores strike of 1984. He goes on to speak about different aspects of Afri’s work and involvements including the Great Famine project, Corrib Gas, and the arms trade.