A recently released UN Women report shows that NZ has the highest rates of physical and sexual violence in the OECD with 30% of women having ever experienced physical violence and 14% having ever experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner from 2000 – 2010. This is something we should be very worried about. Physical and sexual abuse by intimate partners is generally about power and control. It is often about men having a very negative view of women. There is no doubt that stress and alcohol play a role.
The consequences of this violence are huge. I have previously worked in the women’s health movement and I have seen first hand the depression, the loss of confidence and the other consequences that remain long after the physical injuries have healed. Children are also hurt by this violence in so many ways including fear and trauama from seeing their mother hurt. They can often learn and become caught up in similar patterns of abuse. I have also seen the guts and determination women muster to leave violent relationships and to rebuild lives that have been shattered.
We must do something real to change the violence that pervades our culture. Just to give a sense of scale – in 2008 the Police responded to 82,692 incidents involving some form of domestic violence. I find it appalling that at a time when reported violence is increasing that successful programmes like Child Advocates and Te Rito have been cut as has funding for residential services.
In contrast, earlier this year the Gillard Government in Australia announced a 12 year multi-million dollar framework for action to reduce violence. This unified strategy across agencies has cross party support. The strategy includes a major focus on prevention.
I don’t for one minute claim this is a new problem or indeed one that is unique to NZ. Last week I attended two meetings focussed on women on consecutive nights . In the first Marilyn Waring was speaking about the Solomon Islands and the second was a presentation by Ratna Osman from an organisation called Sisters in Islam. Both presentations referred to the significant problem of violence against women.
Violence against women occurs in all societies but I do worry about the scale of the problem in NZ. I think we need to do more to address this problem and reach some sort of consensus on what is needed. In my maiden speech I committed to working to on the issue of family violence. I want to acknowledge those who work in paid and unpaid capacities to try to prevent such violence and to deal with the consequences of such violence. Yours is an important and difficult job.
Women’s Refuge is one such group and last week Jacinda, Carmel and I made a small contribution by collecting for Women’s Refuge in Auckland.