“How much longer will we see the terms ‘femicide’ and ‘gender violence’ in headlines before we forget again?”

In 1996, at the UN’s Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it was said that “violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace”. It has been 26 years and we are still facing this obstacle. In the same world that many believe is more progressive than ever, women still feel scared to walk alone at night; and even when they do, it’s never without a self-defence plan in the back of their minds. 

Ashling Murphy’s fatal assault is yet again another nail in the coffin, reminding us that 26 years on, women still are not safe to live their lives as they wish. While out for a run in the late afternoon, Murphy was attacked and died at the scene on the 12th of January. In the wake of this tragic death of a 23 year old woman, we see yet again an emergence of calls for an end to gender violence in the media. 

Nationwide and everywhere that news has travelled of the untimely death of a woman at the hands of a man, vigils have been held and moments of silence have been observed. While these empathetic acts of solidarity are commendable and in no doubt important to honour the death of Ashling Murphy, the question that begs to be asked is this: Why must a woman die and for her death to make national media headlines for us to remember that gender violence is still a prevalent issue in our society? 

On the 3rd of March 2021, the murder of Sarah Everard broke headlines. We wept, grieved and mourned the death of such a young woman who was kidnapped, strangled, raped and then killed by now convicted Metropolitan police officer, Wayne Couzens. 

Then silence. 

On the 17th of September 2021 in England, Sabina Nessa left her home to walk a five-minute journey to her local pub, but she never made it to the pub. She was murdered and her body left in the local park. A 38-year-old man awaits trial on indictment for murder. Headlines once again embellished the murder of yet another woman. But not as much as this time, her death apparently only deserved the attention of page 25 in British newspapers. Sabina Nessa was a woman of colour, which may point to the lack of as much national outrage as was shown for Everard’s death

But again, silence. 

Two weeks ago, news broke of 23-year-old Ashling Murphy killed while running beside a canal in Tullamore, County Offaly. Vigils are being held in memory of a young woman subjected to such fatal violence yet again. Right now, headlines can’t stop talking and piggy-backing views off of the death of another woman. 

How much longer will we see the terms ‘femicide’ and ‘gender violence’ in headlines before we forget again? Another woman will die for it to make us grieve, mourn and despair at another life lost in this losing battle against misogynistic violence. 

How many more femicide headlines will it take for us to acknowledge the women who die in between these fluctuations of rage and silence?

Taoiseach Michael Martin stated that Murphy’s murder has “united the country in solidarity and revulsion” and that “no stone will be left unturned in bringing this investigation to a completion and to bring the person responsible for this to justice”. But what of the women in between the media headlines whose deaths don’t appear on our screens and timelines? What of the women who suffer violence every single day at the hands of an inherently misogynistic and patriarchal system? 

Gender violence is and has been a continuous and insidious problem in our societies and for far too long and at the cost of far too many women’s lives, we are still fighting a losing battle. Because we only fight when we can piggyback energy off of the raging media headlines. And even when we fight, we do so in the form of quiet, respectful vigils. This article isn’t against vigils.

But they are simply not enough. We need riots and protests and no more empty “zero-tolerance strategy” promises from our politicians because all that these promises do is momentarily please us into silence. 

How do we even have the gall to declare women and men equal in society when it is only in 2022 that a “zero-tolerance approach” is being taken for violence against women? How can we be equal when a culture of patriarchal oppression stops 90% of women who have been raped from reporting it to the gardai? And why are we still only holding vigils (the product of liberalised respectability politics) when from 1996 to 2020, 236 women have died at the hands of men in this country. 

We need a whole government response to this issue, not a momentary policy that will, as many promised policies, begin to gather dust in the near future, somewhere in the Houses of Oireachtas. Then another woman will die and make national media headlines and we’ll again ask “why does this keep happening?” 

It keeps happening because our fight to uproot this violence against women is not constant and it is not steady. It is rage and mourning that only operates on the popularity of national media headlines. We need to keep this momentum going, we need to be steady in our fight against gender violence. Vigils aren’t enough anymore, we need real change. 

We need to create a culture where degrading women, sexualising women and the normalisation of male violence to women are vehemently opposed. We don’t need peaceful liberal politics, we need riots to uproot this misogynistic violence that has been killing 1 woman every month for the past 26 years in this country. 

Mahnoor Choudhry – Co-Editor