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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Opinion: 'I’ve never been whistled at while walking along a Dublin street'

We need a zero tolerance attitude for sexual harassment on our streets, writes Gary Gannon.

Gary Gannon Social Democrats councillor with Dublin City Council

“IMAGINE LIVING IN a city where you didn’t have to send a text to confirm that you’ve arrived home safely.”

The Social Democrats held a number of public meetings on the topic of the UN Safe Cities for Women and Young Girls initiative last week. While planning these meetings, the above sentence was posted to one of our branch group-chats by a member who now works abroad but wished to contribute to an initiative she felt was hugely important to the city she still calls home.

It was a stark reminder to me that my experience of our capital city as a man is one that is distinctly different to that of my female friends and colleagues. I live in a city where there is no expectation from me to confirm my safety once home.

I have never walked a longer route to a destination because of inadequate street lighting; I’ve never been catcalled or whistled at, and I have never had a man walk behind me matching my stride, but never attempting to overtake me.

Sexual harassment is frequent in Dublin

A Dublin City Council report into sexual harassment in Dublin was completed in 2015. The findings of that study showed that sexual harassment is a frequent and distressing occurrence for women and girls, and that for many women walking the streets of Dublin, catcalling, wolf whistling, and being shouted at from cars is an everyday occurrence.

Sexual harassment in public spaces is a serious problem throughout the EU, with one in five women reporting that they have experienced sexual or physical violence since the age of fifteen.

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agenda shows that the problem is even worse in Ireland, with one in every three women responding that they had directly experienced such an incident.

As a consequence of such high levels of street harassment, the fear of violence is ever present and is impeding the freedom of women and girls and how they engage with their city. Ireland has the second highest percentage in the EU of women who reported that they avoid certain places or situations for fear of harassment or violence.

Women spoke of actively avoiding certain streets

Last Monday I was invited to speak with a group of older women who take part in a senior citizens group in the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in Eastwall. Twenty women were present at that meeting and almost all, except one who could drive, expressed their frustration that they rarely left their local area for fear of being attacked.

The solutions they highlighted were practical and very similar to those recommendations contained in Dublin City Council’s own report on street harassment. They spoke of feeling particularly vulnerable on roads which were not suitably supplied with street lighting. They highlighted that they actively avoid places where there is a high presence of vacant or derelict buildings.

They lamented the fact that Gardai were no longer particularly visible while walking along the streets and wondered why nobody could “have a word” with younger men whose lack of respect simply wouldn’t have been tolerated years ago.

At a public meeting in Smithfield, where those who attended were younger and more socially and ethnically diverse, it was suggested that Dublin City Council map out the various places where sexual based harassment happens in our city and how the form of harassment differs when aimed at minority groups such as migrants, LGBT or sex workers.

It’s not women who need to alter their behaviour

It was also suggested that working in tandem with local businesses might be a fruitful way the city could begin to confront this problem. Bars, restaurants and shops could train staff to identify sexual harassment. They could also be places of vigilance or indeed sanctuary if a woman or young girl needed to remove their self from a situation that was dangerous or uncomfortable.

What was very clear was that it is not women who need to be told to alter their behaviour, but rather men who need to change ours. The perpetrators of sexual harassment are men of various different ages and backgrounds.

That men’s sexual harassment of women and girls has become normalised is indicative of a culture that allows men’s violence against women to flourish. Education and early years targeting of males are recommendations both from Dublin City Council’s own report and from our public meetings. In addition, there was a call for a public awareness campaign expressing a zero tolerance attitude for sexual harassment on our streets.

To my knowledge, Dublin City Council has yet to act on the findings that were contained in their own report. There have been no presentations to the full council or to any of our specific policy committees. No additional resources have been allocated to tackle this very significant problem in our city.

The eight councillors who represent the North Inner City ward did allocate €50,000 from a local area discretionary fund, but this will not be nearly enough to confront an issue of such enormous importance.

A society cannot flourish while 50% of our population cannot go about their day without fear of violence or harassment. Making our city safer for everyone must be our priority.

Gary Gannon is a Social Democrats councillor with Dublin City Council for the North Inner City. 

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About the author:

Gary Gannon  / Social Democrats councillor with Dublin City Council

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