Exercising Safe Spaces for Women

Jayde Maher and Niamh Finlay

Fitness groups and individuals are providing safe spaces across the country for women to gather and exercise in light of the murder of Ashling Murphy.

Gráinne Walsh is an Irish boxer from Tullamore who is offering a free boxing class on Saturday in Tullamore Town Park.

Her aim is to provide a space where women can feel safe while exercising in a public space.

Walsh hopes to continue these gatherings on a weekly basis, with the public deciding whether they workout, go for a walk or run, or just chat in a safe space.

Many women have contacted Walsh since she announced her fitness class saying they were “terrified to leave (their) house and to go out on their own or in twos and threes. I just don’t feel safe.”

“It is aimed at women to encourage women to come out as a group, but people of all genders are welcome,” Walsh said.

Walsh does not believe that women learning self-defence is essential but believes that having self-defence skills will be beneficial, as women will then have the confidence to defend themselves.

There are oppositions with the opinion that self-defence is in fact essential.

Domestic violence advocate Monica Walsh is saying to women “don’t be a victim” and she encourages women to learn self-defence.

Monica believes that women are responsible for their own safety and that if they have the time they should go to the gym to learn self-defence skills in order to feel safe in dangerous situations.

She expressed her thoughts that self-defence should be mandatory to learn in school during P.E. sessions.

“The examples we set for the younger generation shape the way they think about gender, respect and human rights. I think it should also be in schools teaching children how to tell peers to stop being violent or aggressive towards others and not using words such as “Boys will be boys”,” Monica said.

Having her own experience with domestic abuse, Monica wrote a book titled “Get me out of this hell,” touching on her experience, which will be released later this year.

Balance Ireland is an organisation that offers self-defence and yoga classes in Phibsborough, Dublin.

They have recently released a workshop called “Avoidance through Awareness” which aims to equip women with the skills necessary to avoid becoming a victim of assault.

They also have an educational programme called “Reduce the Odds” which is designed for everyone regardless of age, gender, or fitness level.

“Most of us don’t want to study a martial art for years to learn how to fight and we believethat you don’t have to. We teach you practical, effective and uncomplicated techniques to help you escape from the most common scenarios you would most likely encounter if attacked,” their website says.

Women are taught many ways to protect themselves from violent attacks, such as holding their keys between their fingers, pretending to be on the phone and to aim for the groin if an attack does occur, but what are men being taught?

“Focusing on the victim or on the environment in which an attack occurs are both red herrings. They distract us and deflect attention,” Sarah Benson, CEO of Women’s Aid said.

“Violence is caused by the choices and actions of the perpetrator. Women are not afraid of the dark. They are afraid of a violent man or men waiting in that dark,” she said.

Many individuals, such as TD Micheal Healy-Rae, are calling for the legalisation of pepper spray to protect themselves in the case of an attack.

“It is time that we open a discussion in Irish society with a view to giving women in particular more protection by legalising the use of Mace or pepper spray as it is more commonly known,” tweeted Healy-Rae.

Despite receiving mixed reactions to his tweet, both Monica and Gráinne are in agreement with this statement.

“I would love for pepper spray to be legal in Ireland. It won’t cause much harm at the end of the day but can save your life. You use that spray into the eyes and you can run away or scream for help. You can also take pictures of the attacker so it’s a huge help for the Gardaí,” Monica said.

Jayde Maher and Niamh Finlay