23 Sep 2018

What Women Want: a panel discussion about domestic violence and healthcare led by Alison Mau

10:03 am on 23 February 2023
Alison Mau

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

To mark the 125th anniversary of Women's Suffrage, broadcaster Alison Mau hosted What Women Want – a series of panel-style conversations about domestic violence, healthcare, the equality that women still seek and how to achieve it.

Listen to highlights from the discussions Healthcare Revolution and Ending Domestic Violence.

Alison Mau with Domestic Violence panellists Gabrielle Quirk, Catriona Maclennan, Anjum Rahman, Deborah McKenzie, Ruahine Albert,

Alison Mau with Domestic Violence panellists Gabrielle Quirk, Catriona Maclennan, Anjum Rahman, Deborah McKenzie, Ruahine Albert, Photo: Diva Productions

Although there have been some changes in social attitudes towards domestic violence over the last few decades, the picture is still worryingly grim, says Roni (Ruahine) Albert, the co-founder and CEO of New Zealand's largest refuge, the Waikato Women’s Refuge.

Protection orders fail to shelter those at risk from further domestic violence, she says.

“They don’t work. There has to be a whole heap of things the woman has to prove. And if it’s just emotional and mental abuse, then forget it.”

Ruahine (Roni) Albert

Ruahine (Roni) Albert Photo: Sally Tagg

Albert describes what happens when the Waikato Women’s Refuge is notified about a woman in crisis – which happens 80 or 90 times a week:

“We can get a call from any range of people. The police. The public. From anywhere. And so a woman will be brought through. We have to assess her to see where she fits – whether she wants to stay in the community or whether she wants to come into a residential [facility], or whether she wants to go out of the area. And that will determine how our advocates assess her safety plan and whether it’s actually better for her to come in.”

Albert is an advocate for getting women into safe houses, especially if there is medium, high or even low risk – depending on the situation.

It helps to remove the woman from the constant badgering and putdowns of an abusive partner that would otherwise wear her down, she says.

Albert's aim is to help women break out of a cycle of abuse.

Some time and space away can be valuable in enabling a woman to recognise some of the tactics of control and abuse which have been used on her, she says.

domestic violence, abuse

Photo: eakmoto/123RF

Women in such a vulnerable state aren’t always ready to acknowledge what has happened to them, Albert says.

Had the partner behaved this way earlier, at the beginning of their time together, “It would be like, hello, we’re not getting into a relationship together. But that doesn’t happen. It’s always the love triangle. And so after a time some of those things start breaking down.”

Manipulation and isolation often factor into an abusive relationship, Albert says.

“So if the partner is continually putting [a woman] down, using emotional abuse, mental abuse, it wears you down because you’re becoming isolated from your family, from your friends, and sometimes she does not see that.”

It is often difficult for those on the outside to understand and avoid judging a woman who is involved in a toxic relationship, she says.

Anjum Rahman

Anjum Rahman Photo: Sally Tagg

All of these same pressures are at play in New Zealand's immigrant communities, but with an extra layer of pressure on the woman being abused, according to Anjum Rahman, a mother-of-two who has helped set up an ethnic women’s centre in Hamilton.

“Ethnic communities hunker down ... Anything that will lead to more intensive attention towards that community they want to shut that down. What you find is that they don’t want the woman to report, because as soon as it goes to the police it becomes a public matter.”

As a consequence, many women in ethnic communities feel unsupported.

“And it really does work against the victim because not only does she have all the normal pressures that other women face, but she’s also facing a community that is actively encouraging her to stay there, not to talk about it. There’s this need for the community to protect itself. Because they know that they’re all going to face the consequences if it gets out.”

Catriona Maclennan

Catriona Maclennan Photo: Sally Tagg

At times, the legal establishment is no less hostile to women, according to barrister, journalist and social activist Catriona Maclennan.

Deeply concerned at the treatment of women by the courts, she has openly criticised a judge who imposed what she considered an extremely inadequate sentence in a domestic violence case late last year - a man who had assaulted three people was granted a discharge without conviction.

“I’ve been involved in domestic violence for 20 years,” she says, “and I’m well aware of the penalties and this was just very lenient. What was particularly concerning was comments made by the judge which were incredibly victim-blaming. He said that the woman had done no credit to herself with her actions and he then said that many people would have done what the male perpetrator did even though it’s against the law.”

Such statements are completely inappropriate and unacceptable from a judge, Maclennan says.

She would have liked the NZ Law Society back her up “because as lawyers we’ve got a duty to promote respect for the justice system and uphold the rule of law. If we just support everything judges say, even when the public and the community can clearly say that the judge is in the wrong, I don’t think that does uphold the justice system.”

sad son hugging his mother

Photo: 123RF

From Maclennan's perspective, this wasn't an isolated rogue judgement. In general, the Family Court deals inadequately with domestic violence, she says.

Last July the Court of Appeal released a decision called SN and MM.

She comments: “That judgement found that an extremely experienced family court judge had completely misunderstood and misapplied the Domestic Violence Act, refusing to give a woman a protection order when the law said she should have one. And so the Court of Appeal granted her one.”

According to Maclennan, that case should have been a red warning light and the Court should have reviewed every single domestic violence case that judge had done, “because if he doesn’t understand the act, plainly other women and children haven’t got the legal protection they should have had. But also we all know he’s not the only judge that has been misapplying the domestic violence act and as far as I know absolutely nothing happened after that Court of Appeal decision. And that’s just shocking.”

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What Women Want was created with the assistance of NZ On Air and recorded in partnership with Diva Productions. For more reading, follow this link to the What Women Want website. 

Alison Mau with Health panellists Phyllis Tangitu, Dr Julie Wharewera-Mika, Isis McKay, Rhona Stace, Dr Sasha Kljakovic, Dame Margaret Sparrow, Dr Huhana Hickey

Alison Mau with Health panellists Phyllis Tangitu, Dr Julie Wharewera-Mika, Isis McKay, Rhona Stace, Dr Sasha Kljakovic, Dame Margaret Sparrow, Dr Huhana Hickey Photo: Diva Productions

Healthcare Revolution - panellists

Gabrielle Quirk

Family Violence Coordinator.

Gabrielle Quirke dedicates personal time to mentoring and supporting affected families. She has worked in Ruapehu and Taumaranui. She aims to carry on the work of Celia Lashlie.

Catriona Maclennan

Barrister, journalist and social activist, Catriona Maclennan has campaigned for the past 20 years against domestic and sexual violence.

She helped set up Nga Ture Kaitiaki ki Waikato Community Law Centre to provide free legal advice to people who could not afford lawyers and was later the project director for Nga Tangata Microfinance Trust, established to provide affordable loans to low-income families and keep them out of the clutches of loan sharks.

Catriona is the founder of Wheels for Women, a project to provide cars to domestic violence survivors. She is a Board member of Rape Prevention Education and a member of the Auckland Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children.

Anjum Rahman

A mother-of-two who helped set up an ethnic women’s centre in Hamilton, Anjum Rahman is a member of the Interfaith Council and the board which runs the community radio station Free FM. She is also on the Islamic Women’s Council.

She comments, “I think a lot of social issues are around people not feeling part of the community, not feeling valued.”

Deborah Mackenzie

Founder of the Backbone Collective, Deborah Mackenzie has sought to change the system that responds to women who have experienced violence and abuse. She helped set up the Backbone Collective in 2017 to enable women and children to safely tell those in authority where the current system is and isn’t working, and how it should respond in order for them to be safe and rebuild their lives. 

Ruahine (Roni) Albert

Ruahine (Roni) Albert is a co-founder and CEO of Waikato Women’s Refuge – the largest refuge in the country – and QSM recipient for Services to Violence against Women and Children.

Ending Domestic Violence - panellists

Phyllis Tangitu

Te Arawa, Ngati Kahungungu. General Manager, Māori Health Lakes District Health Board (DHB). ]

Phyllis's leadership has seen growth in Māori participation in health generally and a huge increase in Māori knowledge of mental health. Here development of kaumātua support has inspired other DHBs to follow her lead. Because of Phyllis, Lakes DHB is one of the services with a relationship with their iwi.

Dr Julie Wharewera-Mika

A clinical psychologist with The Flying Doctors (Ngā Manu Ārahi), Dr Wharewera-Mika has extensive experience as a practitioner in the mental health sector with both adults and children, working with acute and complex cases. Julie’s broader areas of research interest are focused on improving Māori mental health and wellbeing, mental health service delivery, support services for survivors of sexual violence and Māori mental health workforce development. Julie is currently the lead researcher for the Te Ohākī a Hine National Network.

Isis McKay

The national Maternal and Child Health Promoter for WHA, Isis McKay runs  Northern Breastfeeding Network meetings, is on ADHB boards and is an advocate for maternity. She is well-known in the field and she also started the #nooneway movement and the #babiescantwait movement after a woman was kicked off a bus for breastfeeding.

Rhona Stace

A Senior Prosecutor in the NZ Police Prosecution Service, Rhona Stace spent 6 years working in the NZ Police Youth Education Service delivering programmes like Keeping Ourselves Safe and served on her local primary school board of trustees and the Life Education Trust. She’s a parent and an involved member of her local Anglican congregation and has just taken up the role of co-chair of the Waitemata Women’s Advisory Network. 

“Oh," she adds, "and I happen to be transgender.”

Dr Sasha Kljakovic

Founder of the Women’s Collective, Dr Sasha Kljakovic is involved in startups in health innovations and digital medicine. She has developed sexual health DIY kits and firmly believes the health system should encourage women to take charge of their own health.

Dame Margaret Sparrow

One of the first doctors to provide the emergency contraceptive (morning-after pill), Dame Margaret Sparrow has been involved in women's health for decades. When a French company introduced the RU-486 pill for medical abortions, no New Zealand drug company would touch it, so she and four other doctors formed a non-profit drug company to sell it here. She considers that changing the current abortion law is imperative.

Dr Huhana Hickey

Dr Hickey has faced obstacles that would overwhelm many, yet retains a sunny outlook on life. A high school dropout with dyslexia and ADHD; and raised in an adoptive family where she was never expected to achieve, she turned her life around and gained a BA, masters in law with distinction and a PhD. While studying she managed a progressive disability, multiple operations, brain injury and raised a disabled son.

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