There needs to be a “sea change” in how women are treated on the island of Ireland through better law and policy, a former justice minister has said.
Naomi Long said there needs to be a zero tolerance approach to abuse, misogyny and the entitlement culture that exists from the locker rooms to the corridors of power in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Ms Long made the comments at the Shared Island Dialogue which met to discuss tackling gender-based violence and abuse on the island of Ireland.
Those attending the event, in Kells, Co Meath, included Minister for Justice Helen McEntee as well as campaigners and women’s rights advocates.
Ms Long said there is a need to improve sex education standards in schools, and to address attitudes where gender-based violence and sexual abuse can flourish.
“There is an urgency in this. A whole generation of young women are growing up forming relationships, and having sexual experiences, in a context where one in four will experience domestic abuse,” Ms Long added.
“We owe to them, we owe to ourselves to deliver not just better law and policy but a sea change in how women are treated on this island.
“We have to have a zero tolerance approach to abuse, to misogyny, harassment, the entitlement culture that exists in many places that still pervades not just the locker rooms of Ireland, but also the corridors of power on occasion.
“I believe that together we can deliver that change, but the time to act is now.”
Meanwhile, Ms McEntee said that teaching young people about respect and consent starts at primary school level.
She said that societal change is needed to address the issues embedded in the culture.
“There’s a lot of work that each and every one of us has to do. It’s each and every one of us in society and that’s why the strategy that we launched in Ireland this year, a zero tolerance plan, it really is a whole of government, whole of society strategy,” the Fine Gael minister said.
“One which requires not just government agencies, not just each and every one of us in this room, but every single person to buy into and to contribute and to change attitudes, to change the norms that have become so embedded in our society and zero tolerance.
“It’s making sure that boys and men have a role in it. It’s not just women talking to women or women talking about women, that men and boys have an absolutely key role in preventing violence against women.
“It’s greater education, greater awareness. It’s making sure that we have that education at an earlier age, so not just in our secondary schools but our primary schools, teaching what it is to respect each other, healthy relationships, consent, doing so in an age-appropriate way.
“It means acknowledging the importance of bringing about that systemic change within our society.”
Ms Long also said the collapse of the Northern Ireland institutions will impact on the passing of legislation to address gender-based violence.
She said the Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse Strategy cannot be finalised without a functioning Northern Ireland Executive.
Ms Long added: “Vital north-south cooperation is harder in the absence of ministers in each jurisdiction to be able to give a strong lead to their departments.
“Without a budget and without financial certainty, it is hard for us to commit to new project across all areas.”
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