Horrified by actions of Taliban but misogyny is alive here in Ireland too

We are rightly horrified by the Taliban's culture of repression and brutality  - but let's not forget that Irish society has its own thriving culture of misogyny, says Ailin Quinlan
Horrified by actions of Taliban but misogyny is alive here in Ireland too

A woman at a protest to raise awareness regarding the situation in Afghanistan outside EU headquarters in Brussels, this week. Picture: (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

IMAGINE a group of armed men walking into the South Mall offices of the AIB and ordering female employees to leave.

Imagine these women being driven home at gunpoint and informed that male relatives — husbands, sons, cousins, etc — would now fill their professional roles. Doesn’t matter if the men had no actual knowledge of banking, accounting or IT; they were male and that would suffice.

About five weeks ago, Taliban fighters entered a bank in the southern city of Kandahar, and ordered the female employees there to leave. Since, there have been widespread claims about what members of this brutal extremist group have doing to women. An example is the letter, reportedly in the name of the Taliban’s cultural commission, which ordered all imams and mullahs in captured areas to provide a list of girls above 15 and widows under 45 to be married to Taliban fighters.

The Taliban has since denied issuing any such statement and dismissed it as propaganda. Maybe it was? At this point, who can tell?

The sight of terrified people clinging to the outside of a U.S plane flying out of Kabul and then falling to their deaths as Taliban fighters stalked the streets of Kabul was enough for most of us.

Let’s choose not to be seduced by the cosy promise that women in Afghanistan will be allowed to keep the rights they currently have in relation to work and study, though only within the limits of Islam, which means women will retain their rights only within the limits of the Taliban interpretation of Islam. Which means, virtually none.

When they last ruled Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban trampled women’s civil rights into dust. Females couldn’t work, girls were not allowed to attend school, and women had to cover their face and be accompanied by a male relative if they as much as ventured to the shop. Women who broke the rules — by as much as a glimpse of ankle being inadvertently shown, say by a billowing burka — suffered public beatings, stoning or execution by the Taliban. Girls and women were distributed in forced marriages as wives to fighters.

That was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the destruction caused by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

We are rightly horrified by this insane death cult and its culture of repression and brutality which is notorious for the torture, rape and defilement of women. Yet while we’re forcefully expressing our outrage, let’s not forget that Irish society has its own thriving culture of misogyny and abuse. We’re not as white as we’d like to be painted, not when it comes to the abuse of women.

We have our own dark history, from the infamous church and societal abuse of women and children in the past to the widespread violence against women now, in the home, the education sector, the workplace and on the streets.

We’re notorious for not dealing with sex trafficking, for example. And we’re beginning to earn a reputation for the amount of violence against women in politics.

More than one-third of women councillors have experienced sexual harassment or misconduct in their political role. This week, female TDs reported being repeatedly harassed by a stranger. A sexually violent, explicit letter with references to rape and incest was sent to one politician’s home. A man felt quite entitled to turn up uninvited at her house and send her peculiar messages.

Another female politician said she was forced to contact gardaí after sustained harassment. Then there’s the guy who had to be ordered to stay away from Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill after being charged with harassing her last year.

And then, of course, we have those untold legions of men who feel perfectly entitled to lose the rag and to scream at, bully and threaten women, even in public, at the drop of a hat — male drivers for example are notorious for this, particularly when they’re in the wrong.

There’s a disturbing sense of chauvinistic entitlement and societal complicity behind this behaviour. One female politician said she hadn’t gone public with the harassment she suffered because she felt it would be used against her in the public and media. What does that say about our society and its attitude to women?

We might have the Incitement to Hatred Act dating back to 1989 but it’s high time we did something specific in law to address the widespread misogyny in our society.

Because, really, what’s the deal here?

I’m interested to know why so many men threatened by the sight of a successful, or even just confident, woman that they are spurred to harass, frighten, bully or demean her, feel so complacently entitled to do it. It needs to be stopped.

Will we wait until a high-profile female politician or TV presenter, or, for example, a female motorist or pedestrian who dares to answer back to a male bully, is stalked, attacked and injured or even killed?

Specific, powerful legislation to deal with the widespread misogyny across Irish society would be a really good idea now, especially when we’re so happy to be pointing the finger at the Taliban.

And we need focused, determined enforcement of this legislation to get the message across. At least to give these entitled male chauvinist pigs pause for thought.

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