15 Dec 2018

High profile NZ women demand more Govt action against violence

5:11 pm on 15 December 2018

The government has welcomed the release of an open letter from 50 influential women calling for more to be done to stop violence against women.

Stock photo illustrating domestic violence.

Photo: 123RF

Former prime ministers Helen Clark and Dame Jenny Shipley are among those who signed the letter wanting action against violence in the wake of the killing of tourist Grace Millane.

Ms Millane's death was a shock to New Zealanders but also a wake-up call, Dame Jenny said.

She said the government must ensure support is available when people face violence, but the public also needs to have more open conversations about consent and healthy relationships.

"We all have to speak up and find our voice; take action where we see it necessary," she said. "We also need to make a personal commitment, women and men together, that where we see violence or are in situations where we need to say no or stop, that that's understood properly and respected."

The open letter, addressed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, calls for a cross-party plan to stop violence against women, better services for women who have been attacked, and more public awareness campaigns.

Green MP Jan Logie's Domestic Violence-Victim's Protection Bill would give victims up to 10 days paid leave.

Jan Logie Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Undersecretary for Domestic and Sexual Violence Jan Logie said addressing violence against women and other forms of family and sexual violence is a priority for the government.

Ms Logie said she was "very pleased" with the letter. "People making this call gives us clear partners in this effort and we're grateful for it," she said.

The government is urgently working towards stopping the violence, she said, and added that she "absolutely" supports a cross-party approach.

"No other government has made the safety of women and children such a central part of its programme."

Within the last year the government has passed laws protecting victims of domestic violence, including making strangulation a specific criminal offence, and making victims of violence eligible for up to 10 days' paid leave. It has also boosted baseline funding to all family violence services at a $70 million cost.

The Justice Minister is currently reviewing changes made to the Family Court to ensure they're working to keep people safe, she said.

"Recently we directed WorkSafe to make sexual harassment a priority, and it has issued guidelines to employers about how to prevent harassment."

Next year the government is developing a national strategy to end family sexual violence, she said, adding that it will be an action plan "for all of us".

Ms Logie said she wants the public to know the government is listening and doing everything it can to eradicate violence in the home. "It will take some time to rebuild the capacity of a sector that has been seriously neglected under the previous government but we're working on it."

The director of ActionStation, which organised the letter, Laura O'Connell Rapira, said Ms Millane's death had spurred a surge of support for action against violence.

"The truth is violence is preventable if we work together at an individual, at a whānau, at a community, regional and national level and if the government and the men of New Zealand make it a priority."

Call for men to speak up against abuse

She said while the government had a huge role to play in terms of resourcing and legislation, men also had to do their bit by speaking up against abuse and misogynistic conversations.

"We may think it's just locker-room talk or boys being boys, but actually, those conversations are what creates the attitudes in which women are becoming some sort of second-class citizen, which makes it okay for us to be hit, to be beaten, and for our lives to be taken."

Ms O'Connell Rapira said she hoped the letter would help move gender-based violence higher up the government's priority list.

Read the open letter.

"It's difficult to know how to express the horror so many of us feel about what happened to Grace Millane. She was 21, on the trip of a lifetime, with her whole life ahead of her ...and then she was gone," the letter reads.

"When young women are murdered, it reminds women that our safety is an illusion. We have some of the worst statistics for sexual violence, domestic violence and violence against women in the OECD. Most of that violence is at the hands of our men.

"This is a time for national soul-searching. It is also a time for solution-based action."

The letter drew on a recent United Nations report which found a third of women would face domestic or sexual abuse in their lifetime.

The authors also asked New Zealand men to show more respect to women, by calling out other men discussing women in a degrading way, and stepping in if they see abuse happening.

"Women going on solo adventures or meeting new people for dates are not the problem here. Men who commit acts of violence against women are. But violence is preventable if we work together at an individual, whānau, community, regional and national level.

"We must remove our rose-tinted glasses. The government of New Zealand must take action; for Grace and for all of the women who have lost their lives to violence in our country."

The National Party's spokesperson for women, Paula Bennett, said the opposition would "look at any proposals to support ending violence against women".

The strangulation legislation recently passed was first put forward by National and then completed under Labour, she said.

"We see this as an area that we would support anything that works," she said. "When we were in government we had a number of cross agency work programmes on the go that were making real progress."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs