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'It's a stark reality': Vast majority of women in Ireland feel vulnerable because of their gender

A new study found that most women don’t feel safe taking the bus.

Image: Shutterstock/Alex Linch

NINE IN 10 women in Ireland have said they felt unsafe in Ireland because of their gender, according to a new study.

The report by children’s rights charity, Plan International Ireland, examined how women perceive the world around them and how a fear of harassment prevents them from going about their daily lives. 

Some of the key findings of the report include: 

  • Nine in 10 women feel unsafe in Ireland just because of their gender
  • More than one-third have experienced physical harassment in public
  • Six in 10 don’t feel safe taking the bus

The vast majority of women (93%) surveyed feel more vulnerable purely because of their gender. The survey also revealed that almost six in ten women (58%) often or sometimes feel unsafe taking the bus.

More than a third of women participating in the survey say they have been subjected to physical harassment in public, and that this happens most frequently in bars (36%) followed by public streets (22%).

Half said they experienced verbal abuse in public while some also reported being forced to modify their behaviour because they feel unsafe. Almost three-quarters say they jog or walk faster as a safety precaution at night. Nearly half said they take a different route or will even walk longer distances in order to feel safer.

The survey was conducted online in September 2018. There were 534 respondents in total, three-quarters of whom were aged under 25. 83% of the respondents were women.

Speaking about the report, Paul O’Brien, CEO of Plan International Ireland said: “It’s a stark reality for women in our country, especially young women, that harassment and fear are part of daily life. It’s clear that our young women are faced with significant barriers as they strive to achieve their full potential, barriers which men don’t seem to have to factor-in to everyday life.

On International Day of the Girl we are saying it’s vital that young women are consulted by their local politicians and councils and are brought into the decision-making process around areas that will directly impact on their safety in public.

Plan International Ireland carried out the survey following an international study which examined the safety of young women in cities across the world. The survey of almost 400 experts in children’s and women’s rights and urban safety, including experts based in Dublin, found that sexual harassment is the biggest city danger facing young women.

Seven in ten of the Dublin-based experts said sexual harassment of young women in the city’s public spaces is a regular occurrence. Close to a third said it is either extremely unsafe or unsafe for girls to use public transport or be out alone at night in the city.

O’Brien added: “Girls and young women have a basic human right to be safe in their home cities. Unfortunately this is not the reality for many around the world, with common safety threats and challenges experienced on a wide scale.

“While Dublin is one of the safest cities in the survey, we have nonetheless seen that there is a need for a culture change to ensure young women feel safe and are safe when in public spaces, and crucially are consulted on policy-making in the area. They need allies to achieve this – and men have a critical role to play.”

“From our international development work perspective, we can build on the data from this survey to put into action plans to scale up safety-specific programmes for girls living in urban centres in the countries where we work. Our aim is to build safe, accountable and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls through our Safer Cities for Girls initiative. This is just one element of our Because I Am A Girl programme which transforms communities in developing countries by empowering girls.”

The safety of women in Ireland and across the world has become a major topic of discussion since the #MeToo movement began last year. 

At first, #MeToo, a social media movement against sexual misconduct, made its mark through accusations against high-profile men accused of sexual abuse in a range of sectors from entertainment to media and politics.

Sexual Misconduct-Harvey Weinstein Harvey Weinstein Source: Seth Wenig via PA

Many were forced out of their positions, and #MeToo’s influence spread around the world.

In January, the birth of the Time’s Up movement marked a new stage. 

Victims of abuse moved to action, taking to court their alleged harassers and broadening the fight to male-female discrimination such as salary gaps in the workplace.

It grew after nearly 100 women said they were harassed or sexually abused by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein over more than two decades. He has pleaded not guilty in New York to two charges, rape and sexual assault.

Former president Bill Clinton found himself drawn into the #MeToo conversation this week, which overshadowed his tour to promote a thriller novel he co-wrote with best-selling author James Patterson.

Clinton was repeatedly asked whether, in light of #MeToo and the abuses of male power it exposed, he should have resigned over his relationship more than two decades ago with an intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The scandal led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives but he was later acquitted by the Senate and stayed in office.

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