STAND regularly brings you a quick fire Q&A from people who work in NGOs, with government or in community projects. This week, we speak to Tara Brown, ESHTE Project Co-ordinator with the National Women’s Council of Ireland, who works to end sexual harassment and violence in Third Level Education.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do?
I coordinate the EU funded ESHTE project for the National Women’ Council of Ireland which tackles the issue of sexual violence and harassment in third level institutes. This forms part of NWCI’s work on violence against women by addressing barriers to women’s safety and ensuring their full participation in society. NWCI are the lead partner and work with NGO’s in Scotland, Cyprus and Lithuania. As part of my work I chair a National Advisory Committee consisting of staff and student representatives from several Irish higher education institutes, USI, specialist NGO’s, Student Health Organisations and state partners such as An Garda Siochana and the Department of Justice.
The main activities of the ESHTE project over the next year will be to roll out our ‘It Stops Now’ video/poster campaign in October 2018 across universities in Ireland, Scotland, Cyprus and Lithuania. Secondly we will be launching a toolkit for Higher Education Institutes with resources such as training modules and policies as a roadmap to addressing sexual violence and harassment in an institute wide manner. Finally we will be holding a conference in Dublin in March 2019 bringing experts from across Europe together to share learning and expertise in relation to creating a zero tolerance culture towards sexual violence and harassment in third level education.
What do you love most about your job?
I love working collaboratively with so many energised groups to create a social change and work towards a common goal; equality. Being involved in the field of human rights, gender equality and violence against women allows me to get up every day and work on issues that are personally important to me. One of the aspects about this role I particularly enjoy is having the opportunity to engage with so many engaged students and young people. They have deeply enriched the project through sharing their experiences, ideas and spirit of activism.
What do you dislike most?
The pace of progress is always a challenge, it can take can take decades of incremental measures to implement social change. There is a significant issue of underreporting in relation to sexual violence as a gender based crime. In research by the Union of Students of Ireland and COSC only 3 percent of students surveyed said they reported sexual violence or harassment to someone ‘official’.
It’s positive to witness survivors of sexual violence and harassment find a platform for their voice through #metoo and other movements but there are still countless others that are forced into silence. We need stronger justice systems to protect victims, we need to challenge harmful gender stereotypes that perpetuate victim blaming and excuse or minimise the actions of perpetrators and we need to all work together every day to ensure we move closer to a vision of equality, safety and full participation of all.
How did you get into this area?
I initially studied Law in UCC as an undergraduate and then completed a Masters in Human Rights Law in Queen’s University Belfast. I had a strong interest in social justice but developed a particular passion for women’s rights, while volunteering on the Women’s Aid Helpline in Belfast. I felt it was important to work at a grassroots level to understand how law, policy and societal structures impact the day to day lives of a broad range of women in order to effectively develop policies, campaign and advocate. Over the past 14 years I’ve worked directly with women on the issues such as addiction, migrant and ethnic minority rights, HIV, prostitution and trafficking and other forms of gender based violence, homelessness and now specifically on sexual violence and harassment.
What advice would you give to students who want to work in this area?
There’s as many capacities in which people can work in the NGO sector as there are types of causes. The first step might be to figure out what you love doing whether it’s supporting people, communications or digital media, administration, event management etc. I recommend volunteering on an issue you feel passionate about for which there’s an abundance of local NGO’s all over Ireland that would welcome your support. This is a great way to learn more, build up your experience and see if a particular sector is a good fit for you. You may even find that there’s isn’t anyone working on an issue that you feel passionate about and decide to build something yourself as a social entrepreneur.
See here for more on the ESHTE Project or the National Women’s Council of Ireland.
Click here to read the previous instalment, with Jennifer DeWan, who works as Campaigns and Communications Manager with Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre.
Photo courtesy of It Stops Now campaign.