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“Access to justice is the most empowering factor for women”

Trócaire volunteers Lucy Fitzgerald and Ian Dunne report from the 2014 annual seminar of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence, held at the Royal Irish Academy.
The theme of this year’s seminar was ‘Moving Beyond Fear: Prioritising the safety of women and girls in societies’.
mary robinson claudia paz y paz
Claudia Paz y Paz with Mary Robinson. Photo: Paul Sharp/Sharppix
Attending the annual seminar of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence on behalf of Trócaire, we were treated to a gathering of inspirational and experienced individuals who brought forth pressing issues of gender based violence.
It was our first time at the Consortium and we were excited to hear the activists’ speeches. Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, explained that there was a common theme in all of the speakers’ personal stories: tackling impunity and gaining access to justice for victims of gender-based violence. 
The first speaker was Tom Meagher, husband of the late Jill Meagher who was raped and murdered in Australia in 2012 while walking home from a pub. Tom was struck by the fact that Jill’s murderer, Adrian Bayley, had an extensive history of violence against women, but the parole board had failed to take him off the streets. He benefitted from a culture of impunity, as his previous victims were prostitutes whose deaths are treated by society as somehow less important. The experience encouraged Tom to become the national advocate for White Ribbon Ireland, the Irish arm of the world’s largest male-led campaign to end men’s violence against women. 
Within Tom’s speech, there were hard questions. Why is there violence?  What is a real man? What can be done? Questions with hope attached, where he spoke of the need for more care and compassion, and crucially education for men to create a new, more equal generation for tomorrow. 
Claudia Paz y Paz, the first female attorney general in Guatemala and one who made great strides in the areas of organised crime, corruption and human rights violations, spoke about how women continue to be victimised within a culture of violence and impunity stemming from the country’s 36-year long civil war. We were shocked to hear that 700 women are killed every year in Guatemala. 
Paz y Paz gave an informative glimpse into the struggle in Guatemala, where the change of attitudes towards women and towards the law is bringing about steady change. In 2005, the law was changed so that it was no longer possible for an aggressor to be pardoned if he married his victim. This resulted in a massive change of atmosphere for how women were portrayed in Guatemala. 
Finally, Fiona Sampson, executive director for the Equality Effect, spoke about how she is gaining access to justice for those affected by gender-based violence in Kenya through the ‘160 Girls Project’. We were angered to hear about rape committed by police in Kenya, but hopeful that now thanks to a legal challenge, the police are enforcing existing laws that prohibit the rape of women and girls.   
As our former President Mary Robinson noted in her conclusion, “Access to justice is the most empowering factor for women.” 
Trócaire is a member of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence, a network dedicated to helping the international community to end Gender Based Violence.
WATCH: Mary Robinson’s closing address at the seminar
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