By Eva Martin
In recent weeks the separate murders of Natalie McNally, Ailish Walsh, Bruna Fonseca and Maud Coffey have once again caused grief and anger. These femicides were not only a painful end to 2022 and start to 2023 but also a damning warning of what is to come if we do not challenge the deepening epidemic of gender violence, misogyny and sexism.
2022 was wrought with what felt like an onslaught of almost daily news reports of high-profile rape cases, homophobic murders and attacks, or a new attack on the trans community from the political establishment or the media. Women’s Aid has said that the statistics confirm that 2022 was “a terrible year for violence against women in Ireland and globally.” All of the four women who were killed in the North in 2022 were murdered in their own homes.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns played a huge role in exacerbating gender violence (GV), with it being called the ‘shadow pandemic’ by the UN. We now face a global economic crisis which is only predicted to worsen. Women are always the shock absorbers of economic crises because; women tend to be the primary caregivers within most families, precarious work sectors are mostly female occupied, and women are the largest group of people reliant on public services. In the context of the expected deep UK-wide recession, the Tories are likely to step up their attacks on the NHS and other vital services. The cutting of emergency and public services means people in violent domestic situations or relationships are less able to leave, further contributing to the rates of interpersonal violence experienced. Women’s Aid research last year already identified that financial control is a growing aspect of intimate partner abuse.
On top of this, we have seen the rise of figures like Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson normalise violent and misogynistic attitudes. Algorithms on social media target young boys in particular. These online figures and the social media companies who elevate their platforms, are making insane profits by tapping into the insecurities and alienation felt by many young men today due to the chaos of the capitalist system, and it is having incredibly dangerous consequences. The capitalist system, which is based on accumulation of profit of a few individuals, has always relied on and benefited from the oppression of women, and therefore has a vested interest in amplifying all divisions, including by promoting racism, homophobia, toxic masculinity, and rigid gender roles. This is also consciously injected to cut across any potential movement of solidarity. The normalisation of the hatred for women in turn normalises the entire spectrum of gender violence, from sexist attitudes and cat calling – which is experienced by women and non-binary people on a daily basis – to femicide.
On average, globally less than 40% of women who experience violence will seek help of any sort and less than 10% will report to the police. This is unsurprising when you have stories emerging of women bringing evidence to the police in the UK in 2015 with evidence including voice notes of Andrew Tate admitting to rape, and the police refusing to prosecute on the grounds of there being an ‘ounce of doubt’. The recent story of a Met police officer admitting to serial raping and abusing women over the span of two decades and being allowed to continue to work on ‘restricted duties’, despite standing accused of rape is indicative of why we cannot rely on such forces to tackle the issue of GV, never mind solve it.
Yes, we need extensive reform to the likes of the judicial system, the police; yes we need adequate funding for housing, public and emergency services. We also need to challenge attitudes, starting with proper sex and relationship education, which is consent based, LGBTQ+ inclusive, and free from religious influence. But we need more than that if we are to eradicate GV. We need mass struggle against sexism and misogyny the capitalist system as a whole which breeds and perpetuates sexism, misogyny and violence. That these struggles are interlinked is also shown by the fact that a fight for housing, decent living standards including and end to precarious working and decent pay involve taking on the same sections of society who directly benefit from division, exploitation and oppression.
History shows us that the most important drivers of social change are strong and active social movements. Being active in and building campaigns will not only challenge backward attitudes, push back on the rise of misogynists and right win forces, but will also literally save lives.