The DUP has rejected Labour party claims First Minister Arlene Foster is "almost underplaying" the threat of violence against women in Northern Ireland.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh made the claim in a BBC interview while calling for an overarching strategy to deal with violence against women.
In response the DUP pointed to Mrs Foster's record on the matter highlighting how she had "strongly backed" a campaign for a strategy to be developed, having committed to such work and having raised the matter with the justice department.
The party also highlighted a Twitter post from Ms Haigh in which she praised Mrs Foster for agreeing to develop a strategy.
Excellent news that @DUPleader has committed to working with @WomensAidNI to develop a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.— Louise Haigh (@LouHaigh) March 14, 2021
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a specific strategy but has enormous and under-reported issues with gendered violence https://t.co/EJmnJaw3CY
Following the high profile murder of Sarah Everard in London, Mrs Foster was asked on BBC Radio 4 why Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK without a formal strategy to protect women against violence.
She commented: "Northern Ireland has a very low record of this sort of activity, but it happens.
"Those of us who are in public life are fully aware of the threats of violence that we receive so there is this atmosphere that needs to be tackled.
"Because my worry is that it's putting young women off coming forward and getting involved in public life and I think it has a real chill effect and we need to tackle that in a real and meaningful way."
Speaking on BBC Good Morning Ulster, Ms Haigh said the DUP leader did not go far enough with her comments.
"It's concerning to hear the first minister almost underplay the level of the issue in Northern Ireland. Because Northern Ireland has had a specific issue with violence against women and girls because it is a post-conflict society."
She added that research had shown that following the Troubles, some of the violence on the streets had translated into domestic abuse.
Ms Haigh questioned Mrs Foster's claim that Northern Ireland had comparatively low rates of violence against women.
"There is a significant issue with under reporting in Northern Ireland... because of the nature of Northern Ireland society being a post-conflict society.
"So there is more of a need in Northern Ireland than anywhere else to have a specific strategy to tackle this."
She said there was "clearly a need" for a gender specific strategy as women are twice as likely to be a victim of domestic abuse as a man.
Responding, DUP MLA Pam Cameron told the Belfast Telegraph: "Louise Haigh previously warmly welcomed the First Minister's commitment on working with Executive colleagues to develop a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. As someone who strongly supports the work of Women's Aid I very much welcome the First Minister's strong backing for their campaign.
"Louise Haigh would also not be aware that the First Minister had raised the need for a strategy with the Justice Minister. Everyone will welcome that a paper on this subject is now to be brought to the Executive.
"This is an issue where there is support across the political spectrum and the first minister has been at the forefront of highlighting its importance."
Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon said: “I think that the first minister’s comments around political representatives (that women in public life are often targeted with abusive comments) is not what this is about, it’s about all women and girls right across the north and the need to protect them."
Ms Dillon said the law was still “very much on the side of the alleged perpetrator” which was most often a man, even in cases of violence against men.
She also supported following steps in England and Wales which will see police treat misogyny as a hate crime by this Autumn.
Justice Minister and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long denied her department had been slow to tackle the problem, having already passed relevant legislation.
Ms Long said she raised the issue of an overarching strategy on violence against women at the Executive meeting on Tuesday.
“This is not a matter for justice, we deal with the consequences of these crimes when they’ve been committed.
“But this is a much wider ranging piece of work that needs to be done which deals with the route causes of victimhood,” she said.
As men were most likely to commit the offences, she called for an Executive strategy covering education, health and communities.