By Brynne Gilmore
I bowed my head, trying to hide tears from the student across from me who was diligently working on an essay. Sitting in the library, I was reminded of how common violence against women and children is; it can be easy to recite figures in place of real stories.
A few months ago, International Women’s Day (8 March) was celebrated in Dublin with an array of events and seminars hosted by NGOs, institutions and women’s groups. As part of the day, I spent the afternoon at the Chester Beatty Library along with about 90 others for a discussion on the health and social consequences of violence, co-hosted by the Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH) and the Irish Joint Consortium on Gender-Based Violence.
The afternoon began with Jim Clarken, CEO of Oxfam and Chair of the Gender Based Violence Consortium, introducing the first key speaker, Avni Amin from the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research.
Ms. Amin educated the audience on global statistics of gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against women (VAW), and gave some shocking facts, mostly from developing countries, on the prevalence of such atrocities. She also outlined the steps towards the daunting goal of ending violence against women and children.
Next, Dr. Eilish MacAuliffe from the Centre for Global Health at Trinity College Dublin reminded the audience that it is “easy to become demoralized…but a lot of progress has happened in this area”. She then introduced Alwiye Xuseyn from AkiDwA, a migrant women’s group from Dublin, who shared some of this progress.
Xuseyn discussed female genital mutilation (FGM) specifically in the Irish context. She talked about how her organization has been working to educate and empower individuals on FGM and bring laws into Ireland to protect its girl citizens.
During the two presentations, the audience was informed of research being conducted, initiatives being piloted, campaigns instigated and policies being enacted – all to raise awareness and protect women and children. Looking at charts, data and legislation I was captivated, curious and educated.
I initially intended to write this correspondence piece on how shocked I was that some country statistics on violence against women are just now being complied and how laws against FGM in Ireland are only close to being enacted.
But every time I went to write, I saw friends’ faces. Their stories flooded my mind. I lived in East Africa for a couple years working with women and children. I recalled dealing regularly with issues such as children being beaten, the sexual assault of young girls by family members and threats and acts of FGM. Then I thought about the young boys I care for, not only being victims but subsequently perpetrators of sexual abuse. They don’t always understand the severity of their actions because, well, it happened to them. Or friends of mine who were just walking home but according to police were ‘asking for it’, when they were attacked.
I sat in the library reliving these stories and repeating in my mind the disturbing facts I was told earlier that day. “In some countries 80-90% of women experience violence”. “In Ireland 20-30% of women have experienced violence.“500,000 women in Europe are victims of FGM”. My friends were not the exception. Violence against women and children is all too common no matter where you live.
What Ms. Amin and Ms. Xuseyn are doing – gathering facts and evidence and educating and empowering individuals – is essential to protect over half of the world’s population and decrease gender inequality everywhere. Individuals and organisations like them who are fighting for women’s rights can’t do it alone. They need support from a global community who recognise not only the value of women, but the cost of doing nothing.
What did I learn from International Women’s Day 2012? To remember my friends and to stand up for their rights. Let’s face it, with the sickening statistics on gender based violence worldwide, we all care about someone who has been a survivor of such injustices – whether you know it or not.
Presentations from this seminar are available for download on the IFGH Website at: http://globalhealth.ie/index.php?i=363
 Avni Amin, WHO
 Eilish MacAuliffe
 Alwiye Xuseyn