Local reps mobilise for more protection for women and girls

ANTRIM councillors have called for greater protections for women and girls following a spate of violent and high profile attacks.

The kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in London earlier this month brought the debate to the fore, followed by the shocking killings of Karen McClean and Stacey Knell in Newtownabbey in recent weeks.

Two Notices of Motion will come before Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council this week.

The first, moved by Councillor Alison Bennington and seconded by Councillor Jeannie Archibald-Brown, both from the DUP, proposes that: “The council recognises women’s concerns across the United Kingdom after the disappearance and subsequent murder of Sarah Everard.

“It has placed a spotlight on the safety of women and girls.”

The motion requests that the council request the Department of Justice to bring forward a Safer Places Fund which enables PSNI and Local Authorities to bid for investment in initiatives, such as street lighting and CCTV security cameras that have been proven to prevent crime of all types.

They also call on the council to form a task force to develop publicity campaign promoting Safety Apps and engaging with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Women’s Aid and Soroptimists within Great Britain and Northern Ireland and request that other Councils do the same.”

Another Notice of Motion, moved by Councillor Roisin Lynch and seconded by Alderman Thomas Burns, both of the SDLP, proposes that: “This council acknowledges the prevalence and impact of violence against women and girls locally, and throughout the world, resulting in the loss of lives, implications for the health and wellbeing of survivors, discrimination and the violation of human rights.”

They also proposed that council agrees to consider developing a financial support fund for women’s groups across the district and declares its commitment to making the area a safe place for everyone and acknowledges that women should feel safe in in public places everywhere.”

Both motions called for a specific strategy in Northern Ireland on the eradication of violence against women and girls, noting that Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK without such a strategy.

However since the publication of the council agenda last week, the NI Executive has now committed to develop a ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’.

It came in response to calls for action as it emerged that eight women have lost their lives in lockdown in Northern Ireland due to domestic abuse incidents in the last year.

Women’s Aid ABCLN welcomed the news.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Deputy Mayor and Women’s Aid ABCLN Ambassador Noreen McClelland said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all those women.

“Whilst anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, we know it is an issue that disproportionately impacts women.

“PSNI statistics show that out of all reported domestic abuse crimes, 69% of victims were women, 31% of victims were men, and 86% of perpetrators were men.”

Earlier this month Antrim and Newtownabbey Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) launched a new Domestic Abuse awareness raising campaign ‘Domestic Abuse – It is Never OK’.

Councillor McClelland added: “We are the only part of the UK that does not recognise the gendered nature of violence against women and girls.

“We stand together with all victims of domestic abuse.”

Women’s Aid ABCLN Communications and Engagement Manger, Arlene Creighton said “One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

“In Northern Ireland 31,817 domestic abuse incidents were recorded in 2019-2020.

“This equates to one incident of domestic abuse every 17 minutes.”

Women’s Aid ABCLN encourages groups and individuals across Northern Ireland to take action by supporting the White Ribbon campaign and making the personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.

Over the past year their campaign has been supported by the Chief Constable, PSNI and Department of Justice.

Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA signed the White Ribbon Charter at the height of lockdown, making his personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girl, and this was followed by the Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance Party, SDLP and DUP including First Minister Arlene Foster.

Arlene Creighton added: “We are delighted that all parties in the NI Executive have shown their unanimous support for development of a Violence Against Women and Girls strategy”.

Women’s Aid ABCLN provides confidential support, information and emergency accommodation for women and children who are affected by domestic abuse across Antrim, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey.

Last year Women’s Aid ABCLN supported 1,674 women and 2,313 children living with domestic abuse in the local community, including 51 children in our refuge.

30% of domestic abuse begins in pregnancy and last year eleven babies were born to Women’s Aid refuges across Northern Ireland.

Arlene concluded: “Often the biggest victims of domestic abuse are the smallest. We provide specialised services and support for children and young people who are often referred to as the hidden victims of domestic abuse.”

“Our ‘Older But No Safer’ project aims to raise awareness of the issues faced by older women affected by domestic abuse.

“Older women tell us that they may be older but they are no safer and it's never too late to get help.”

“Of the eight women who lost their lives in lockdown, the youngest women was 20 and the oldest women, from Larne was aged 82.”

“Together with Antrim and Newtownabbey PCSP we want to get the message out there anyone affected by domestic abuse that help is available. Domestic abuse cannot be tolerated in our society.

“Thank you to all who stand with us on this issue.”

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