Home Health Louise O'Neill: I don't feel like celebrating International Women's Day – Irish Examiner

Louise O'Neill: I don't feel like celebrating International Women's Day – Irish Examiner

11 min read

Photo: Cathal Noonan
For the last month, I’ve been receiving emails about International Women’s Day. Asking me to do an interview, or talk to students, or give a keynote speech for a company’s employees. I’ve said no to everything. I just don’t feel like celebrating this year. This has never been a country for women — how could it be? 
When for decades, innocent women were incarcerated for the ‘sin’ of having sex before marriage, their babies ripped from their arms and sold to the highest bidders? When the people and the institutions responsible were granted indemnity, allowed to walk away? It’s easy to call it ‘another Ireland’, ‘a different time’, but the remnants are still there if you look hard enough. 
When Ashling Murphy was killed in January, so many of us saw ourselves in her. So too, did we see ourselves in the 244 other women who have died violently in this country since 1996, when Women’s Aid began the Femicide Watch project to record such deaths. 
Women like Urantsetseg Tserendorj, who was stabbed as she left her cleaning job in Dublin in 2021. 
Nadine Lott, the 34-year-old who was beaten by her former partner to such an extent that when Nadine’s mother found her, she said, “I couldn’t recognise her face, I couldn’t recognise it was Nadine… all I could do was lie on the floor with her holding her hand trying to give comfort, comfort that I was there.” 
Ana Kriégel, fourteen years old, who was violently attacked, sexually assaulted, and murdered by two thirteen-year-old boys in 2018. 
Clodagh Hawe, who was murdered — as were her three sons — by her husband in 2016. 
Tracey O’Brien who was pulled to the ground in 2011, kicked and stamped, and who died in hospital a week later due to her injuries which included a skull fracture and brain haemorrhage. The man who killed her told gardaí on his arrest: “All I did was kick her in the face, what’s wrong with that?”. He was jailed for three years.
Sharon Coughlan. Seema Banu. Catherine Ward. Natalia Karaczyn. 
I could fill this column with their names. Some will be instantly familiar, others less so. 
In my last book, a character remarked that, “Young women go missing in Ireland all the time. Some of them turn up dead, others are never found. You never know which cases are going to take a hold of the country’s imagination. Which girls will be the ones we decide we’re all going to care about.” 
But Ashling Murphy was one of those girls. 
The collective outpouring of grief and devastation after her death was almost unprecedented, it was a ‘watershed moment’, people said. But a few weeks go by, and we are distracted by our busy, busy lives, and we move on. 
We forget so easily until the next woman is taken from us, and we remember to be outraged again. Enough is enough, we will say. But then we ask other women to tell their stories for the good of the culture, cutting open barely healed wounds for our entertainment. 
We do this every time, haven’t you noticed? 
The Repeal movement. #MeToo. Domestic violence and sexual abuse. We want to hear the horror stories. 
We want the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Go on. Prove to us we should care about you. Prove to us you are human. 
And people will listen to the stories, and they will say, “god, isn’t that shocking?” or they will say, “I’m not trying to be bad but what was she doing walking home alone?,” or they will say, “I don’t know why these women stay, I would never put up with that.” 
In the aftermath, some men have stood by our sides, and we are grateful for that — we will need your help. Others become defensive. They read a column such as this one and decide that I am the person to direct their fury at, rather than the abusers. 
They will shout Not All Men! Not all men are rapists, not all men are monsters, which is true. I know good men — I was lucky enough to be raised by one, to be loved by another. 
But if one in three women will experience some sort of violence in her lifetime and 98% of the preparators are male, the math isn’t adding up, unless you believe it’s the same fifteen guys taking turns, travelling the world in some sort of depraved tag-team. 
And in all the arguing about the good men and the women who are asking for it, and the sons who would never do anything like that and the daughters who need to be taught to be careful, it feels like nothing ever changes. 
On International Women’s Day, I don’t want to go for a Prosecco brunch with my best gals and I don’t want to post a photo of my mother on Instagram, with a caption about strong women — may we know them, may we raise them, may we be them, etc. 
I want real, institutional change. I want a country that protects its women and girls. I want to feel safe.
Louise Says 
Read: Careering by Daisy Buchanan is perceptive, wise, and inspiring. I adored it.
Read: Good Intentions by Kasim Ali. Nur, a young British-Pakistani man is keeping his relationship a secret from his family because of one thing — Yasmina, his girlfriend, is Black.

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