A motion calling for the Northern Ireland Assembly to initiate a Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy and form a task force to develop a publicity campaign promoting safety apps for women and girls passed unanimously at Causeway Coast and Glens Council meeting. However, a number of members left the council chamber as the motion was being read.
The motion proposed by DUP Councillor Michelle Knight-McQuillan and seconded by party colleague Alderman Sharon McKillop read: ‘This council recognises women’s concerns across society, highlighted again after the disappearance and subsequent murder of Sarah Everard in South London earlier this month. This has placed a spotlight on the safety of women and girls”.
Addressing the chamber, Cllr Knight-McQuillan said: “On reflection I now feel it may not reach far enough in relation to women’s concerns. This issue of violence against women and girls is much wider than the UK and ROI and I would like to reflect that in the motion. This is a global societal issue.
“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a strategy to address the issue of gender-based violence against women and girls. This, I believe, needs to be addressed and I would ask this council to support this call.
“In Northern Ireland, in 2019/20, the PSNI responded to over 32,000 incidents of domestic abuse, accounting for 17 per cent of all crime reported, and in 2017 Northern Ireland had the highest rate of femicide in the whole of Europe per head of population.
“Indeed, every year within the Causeway Coast and Glens there are in the region of 2,300 domestic incidents with around 1,000 of these cases involving assault or criminal damage, although this number does not reflect the figures for 2020 taking in to account the effects of the pandemic.
“This issue, of course, is much broader than domestic abuse alone and many incidents of violence against women and girls often goes unreported for fear of consequences, or having to re-live events.
“I believe the recently-established Women’s Group within council could act as a task force to carry out the objectives of the motion therefore reducing any additional burden on committees or staff, and I believe it fits within the aims of the Women’s Group.
“I am asking members to support this motion and the need for such a strategy, which has been acknowledged publicly in recent weeks by the First Minister and Deputy first Minister. I believe we all have a part to play.”
Independent Councillor Angela Mulholland thanked Cllr Knight-McQuillan and Ald McKillop for bringing the motion adding: “Women need to feel safe in their homes, in their families, in their communities, in their workplaces, day and night. The recent Sarah Everard incident highlights the exploitation of women by men in positions of power, in positions of trust.
“Women shouldn’t have to feel helpless, humiliated, alone, disgusted, ashamed when something happens to them, they are the victim and need to be put first.”
DUP Alderman John Finlay also supported the motion adding; “Domestic violence or any violence against women is wrong. I think it is a terrible thing that women are frightened in their own home. Home should be a place of safety, a place where you feel welcomed and loved.”
UUP Alderman Norman Hillis gave his support saying it was ‘diabolical’ to hear of so much violence against women and girls.
“There’s no excuse for this shocking violent behaviour,” he said. ‘We should all stand up and any man worth his salt should be in total support of stepping up efforts of education. It’s unbelievable in 2021 this is happening.
As a number of members left the Chamber, Alderman Hillis added; “On an important issue like this I would have liked to see all members in attendance but there you are.”
Cllr Knight-McQuillan thanked all the members who spoke on the motion and the cross party it had reached in the Chamber.”
A recorded vote was taken with the 26 remaining members voting unanimously in favour of the motion.