Women will not be silenced now... we must make Ireland safe for us

The death of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore has shaken the women of Ireland to the core. ELAINE DUGGAN says it must lead to a change in our society.
Women will not be silenced now... we must make Ireland safe for us

LIGHTING UP THE DARKNESS: Candles in Schull on Monday evening, at a vigil and a walk in memory of Ashling Murphy. Attendees walked to Schull Pier, where candles were laid on the pier wall and a musician sang

I REMEMBER the first time I was taught a form of self-defence. I was a young teenager in secondary school, possibly even first year.

Our usual PE class was cancelled and instead the girls were brought to the sports hall, where a martial arts expert showed us some simple defence moves. Just the girls.

Reflecting back now, it all seemed a bit strange at the time - some strong, burly man, showing us how to defend ourselves and counter-attack, should we be assaulted.

As young teenage girls, we took it all a bit lightly - not comprehending fully why we might need this advice. Many of us thought we never would.

The tip I recall very clearly, and one which I still use to this day, is to carry your key, sharp side up, between your fingers, when walking alone - a very real, accessible and effective weapon, should someone ever attack you.

I was reminded of this when scrolling through social media comments last week, following the tragic death of Ashling Murphy. Another Cork woman posted how when she goes for a walk or jog, she carries her keys like this too, always…

In that moment, I recalled how just recently I had carried my keys just like that, coming home from the shop, in broad daylight. Some 30 years on from when I was first given that advice.

A grown woman, I still feel the fear, the necessity, the security, in pulling out my keys, just in case. Day or night.

That day, something or someone had unnerved me, and I went into auto-pilot, reaching for the keys in my pocket as I had done so before.

How effective they would be, I don’t know. But it’s sad, infuriating and unbelievable that in the year 2022, a woman feels the urge to reach for a house key, as a weapon, to protect themselves, when walking a short distance from her home, on a trip to buy milk in the nearby shop. At that moment I just didn’t feel safe.

And by the sounds of it, I am very much not alone.

In the days after the death of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, it’s all people could talk about - not just express their grief, sorrow, and outrage at a life cut so short - but also let the world know that they too do not feel safe in Ireland 2022.

They too fear violence, harm, or injury, when going about their regular lives.

Aisling Murphy, a teacher from Tullamore. There has been a nationwide outpouring of grief following her death.Picture: RIP.ie
Aisling Murphy, a teacher from Tullamore. There has been a nationwide outpouring of grief following her death.Picture: RIP.ie

Ashling’s death woke us all up to our worst nightmare. The unthinking happened. It made us stop and reflect on all the times that we were going about our normal day, and felt unsafe.

It made us stop and think of our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, girlfriends, aunts, our friends - who should be able to live their lives as they wish, without fear of any kind of attack, or assault, or harmful incident.

My husband was both shocked and in disbelief to hear I carry my keys this way. He even brought it up to another woman during a job he was on - and they confirmed that she and her friends do this too.

My husband walks regularly and goes for jogs and I don’t think his personal safety crosses his mind - the only thing he has to think of regarding safety is pulling on his high vis and bringing a torch.

However, he has become conscious that when he is out, especially at dark, that women may feel uncomfortable or nervous, when he passes them by, innocently - not knowing the stranger beside them.

The past week has awakened him to these real, genuine fears that women have in modern Ireland - everyday fears. Something his daughters too may have to contend with, if there’s not a radical change. They are just primary school going now - it’s hard to know what kind of world we’ll be living in when they are older.

The past week has seen an outpouring of grief, sadness, disbelief, anger and so many different emotions following the tragic loss of Ashling Murphy. Her loss must be an unimaginable pain to all who knew her, her family, her partner, her friends, her colleagues, her students.

It was the news that she was a primary school teacher which brought tears to my eyes. 

How do you explain to first class pupils that Miss Murphy won’t be in today, or tomorrow, or any day in the future… because her life has been cut so cruelly short.

My ten-year-old daughter attended a small vigil with her classmates and teacher and older classes in our village square the day after Ashling died. As you can imagine, there were lots of questions from her when she came home, as to why this happened. I just didn’t have the answers.

As I drove her from music class, we stopped to let a female jogger cross the road in front of us - it was just gone 4.30pm in the day, the sky was still bright - and my daughter pointed out to me, that Ashling was probably just like that woman. And she was right.

Social media, as we have witnessed this past week, has been friend and foe. I think we can get lost / caught up in what we should be posting, what we should be doing/ saying/ or how we should be reacting to such a terrible crime.

The reality is simple, Ashling shouldn’t have died. Other women shouldn’t die at the hands of any man, or indeed any woman. It was a horrendous incident on what should have been a bright, January day as the new year continued to dawn - a day full of hope for the 12 months ahead.

What is admirable is that women are making their voices known on this issue. They will not be silenced.

They will not hide their tears behind closed doors, as they once would have. The poignant vigils across Ireland - from cities to towns - show us that. And they are seeking change.

A lot has been said too this past week about the absence of male voices. How somehow the responsibility of keeping ourselves safe, rests just with women, and not the men who perpetuate the violence / cause the fear.

I don’t think we need to demonise one entire gender and pit them against one another. But we do need to have conversations with our relatives, be it our husbands, our sons, our brothers, our friends, our colleagues.

Of course it’s not just a female issue. The conversation might just be starting… but it has to start somewhere, so why not let it be here, why not let it be now?

It’s the very least that Ashling and all the women who have gone before her deserve.

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