Damning report finds ‘women occupy low status’ within misogynistic Irish Defence Forces

Damning report finds ‘women occupy low status’ within misogynistic Irish Defence Forces

A MUCH-ANTICIPATED report into abuse within the Irish Defence Forces reveals that incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment persist across the organisation.

Published by the Independent Review Group (IRG), the findings confirm that the organisation is in need of a culture change, as “neither men nor women in the Defence Forces are working in a safe working environment”.

Chaired by Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon, the IRG-DF review was established by the Irish Government after allegations of abuse within the forces were made.

The report suggests numerous recommendations to address a multitude of issues highlighted through their investigation of the allegations.

Most prominent among the findings is the low status of women working within the organisation.

“The streams of research and consultation that the IRG-DF has undertaken all triangulate to reveal a disturbing picture of the lived experience of women and men in the Defence Forces,” the report states.

“It must be noted that men are also on the receiving end of unacceptable behaviours, ranging across the full spectrum, up to and including rape,” they state, before adding: “However, statistics from the IRG-DF Perceptions and Experiences Survey (2022) and the recounting of lived experience, show women are disproportionately targeted for misogynistic treatment throughout their careers simply because they are women.”

The report outlines the following examples as lived experiences of women in the Irish military:

Being verbally denigrated for being female in public and in front of others, including their classmates, and also in less public locations

Despite a lower physical standard set for women, being harassed for not meeting the male standard

Being refused access to courses because of the belief that women will become mothers and not continue their careers – a very convenient belief for limiting women’s advancement, and an illegal practice

Additional chance of experiencing unwanted physical contact/sexual assault

Being sidelined for career progression as a result of pregnancy and childrearing

Being excluded from roles and assignments in preference to less-qualified males

Having their talents be underutilised and wasted while the organisation struggles to deliver on expectations.

The report explains: “The enduring nature of issues around unacceptable behaviours in the Defence Forces was evidenced in the IRG-DF Perceptions and Experiences Survey and Benchmarking Report (2022) undertaken as part of the IRG-DF’s Terms of Reference, with results showing a lack of significant change in the rates of people reporting having experienced bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment, with female members of the Defence Forces reporting increases in experience of sexual harassment in 10 of the 11 types of sexual harassment surveyed.

“These findings were reinforced through analysis of interviews undertaken with both serving and former members of the Defence Forces, where incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination and sexual harassment persist and cannot be said to be a feature of the past only.

“The two sets of interviews, undertaken by different teams and based on different approaches, delivered very similar outcomes.

“Women are viewed as occupying a low status in the Defence Forces.

“Gender and particular hypermasculinities are strong organising forces in the culture.

“This is reflected throughout this Review, not only in individuals’ lived experience as described to us, but also in the various forms of independent analysis undertaken."

They added: “The problems that exist will not go away without immediate and significant steps being taken to address them.

“The overall findings of this Review are that the Defence Forces, as a place of work, is not fully aligned with the principles of dignity, equality, mutual respect, and duty of care.

“The prevailing workplace culture is one that is disabling when it comes to supporting dignity and respect in the workplace."

The reports adds that the Defence Forces in Ireland are “a workplace where self-worth and value are negated and disrespect is a dominant feature in an organisation resistant to change”.

Among numerous recommendations made in the IRG report, the Irish Government has been urged to “undertake a well-designed and expertly implemented culture change programme” across the forces.

They have also called for a redress scheme for those who have experienced abuse while a member of the Defence Forces.

“The IRG-DF proposes that the Government should consider setting up a restorative justice or practice process aimed at healing the wrongs that have been reported while contributing to the reform of behaviours to underpin a future Defence Forces that is a safe workplace and affords dignity and respect to members,” the report states.

Speaking this morning, as the report was released, Ireland's Minister for Defence Micheál Martin confirmed the Government's intention to progress, as a priority, the report’s recommendations.

To view the full report click here.