Speech to the SHINE and SAFEINET International Women’s Day event

It’s wonderful to be here today to mark international women’s day with all of you.

Firstly I would like to offer my sincere thanks to SHINE for hosting us today, in the midst of their week-long event “Light it Orange” I love that you’ve created a series of events shining a light on domestic violence.

I suspect you are all embracing the “press for progress” theme of International Women’s Day this year. I know you’ve been pressing for progress for decades now. I also know that the reason you’ve been pressing for progress is because you see and feel the trauma created by domestic and sexual violence. You are in the struggle everyday against a wider system that doesn’t help and in fact all too often makes things worse. I’ve been away from the front-line for a while now, I am emotionally and physically safe, but I still feel the urgency and responsibility.  I am here to say I too am “pressing for progress”

I want to acknowledge the many people in this room and those not here with us today, for all those years of feeling as if we are banging our heads against a brick wall of minimisation, denial, victim blaming and political rhetoric. I believe right now however, that we do have an opportunity for fundamental change. 

This is my first time speaking at an engagement as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary with responsibility for domestic and sexual violence issues. I acknowledge that this is also the first time we have had a dedicated person in the Executive of our Government focussed on family and sexual violence. In a nutshell, my job is to be a champion for ending domestic and sexual violence, and rest assured this isn’t only a job for me.

Preventing domestic and sexual violence is one of our greatest opportunities for improving wellbeing and building a cohesive society.

My position is to explicitly lead work with the NGO sector, and across government to improve our current systems, and there is no shortage of work there, and to develop our Government’s approach to ending domestic and sexual violence.

You have heard the Prime Minister and other Ministers in government talking about our commitment to wellbeing, to improving mental health, to lifting people out of poverty, and building meaningful Crown/Maori relationships.

It goes without saying that a person’s physical and psychological integrity-their safety- underpins their wellbeing, to improving mental health, to lifting people out of poverty, and building meaningful Crown/Maori relationships.

This government is committed to progress some of the most complex social issues confronting our nation; wicked problems that won’t be solved quickly or by any one intervention.  This clearly includes domestic and sexual violence.

I want to acknowledge up front, that we know that this will require Government working with you. We need to build from your knowledge and enable your passion and drive to achieve more for women in Aotearoa. We have made too little progress over too long a time, and that cannot continue.

So today I want to talk to you about how we move forward from here. Hopefully you will hear many of your own views reflected in this.

Firstly, it seems appropriate on International Women’s Day to recognise domestic and sexual violence as forms of gender based violence, and also in light of recent conversations to specifically acknowledge sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence.

Of course, gender-based violence is an issue for men, women and people of diverse genders. We need healthy happy men in our families and our communities; men feeling confident and safe in their masculinity and able to safely express all their feelings and not just those that are stereo typically male. We also need to acknowledge that not all people fit into this binary and may be at more risk of violence.

But on this day, international women’s day, we reflect on the status and wellbeing of all women.

I am pressing for progress for women in Aotearoa New Zealand so that we can all live free from violence.

I am pressing for progress for women because time is up.

There are no excuses;

  • for turning a blind eye to sexual harassment
  • for silence when women are objectified and belittled
  • for tolerating violence in our homes, our workplaces and everywhere in our society
  • for blaming victims
  • for accepting rape culture

It’s time to challenge the beliefs and behaviours that have continued to subject women to abuse.

Current data shows one in three women experience physical emotional and or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime; women are twice as likely as men to suffer partner abuse; women are more likely to be killed; and women living with a disability, young women, Maori women, queer and trans women experience higher rates of violence but are also more likely to be re-traumatised by our current systems.

We all know that women’s experience of violence reflects under lying issues of gender and inequality – it’s basically about power. This means prevention and responses need to be inclusive and seek to minimise other power inequalities. We also know addictions, poverty and mental health and housing challenges can all be an outcome of domestic and/ or sexual violence.

We need a cultural shift and that shift will also need to recognise the role colonisation has played and continues to play in fuelling gender based violence. For too long Maori have been told they are the problem and we have ignored the role of the State and the perpetuation of institutional racism which has all too often denied the meaningful engagement with Maori. We need to re-centre Kaupapa Maori responses to violence; not because Maori are a problem but because Maori hold the knowledge of what works for Maori.

We have to build trust between us so we can bring together government resources and community expertise to really start to turn these issues around.

I want to acknowledge at this moment the Backbone Collective and their 1200 plus members who provide an explicit victim’s voice, and who have willingly shared access to the experiences of victims of domestic violence through their advocacy and reports.

It is crucial to have the voice of those we seek to help and keep their safety at the centre of our thinking.

We can only change this if we are prepared to think and do things differently. And we need all of us to do this.

We here know, women their partners and whānau need us all to work differently to be prepared to transform the system and to do so in partnership with communities.

An individualised response or one pathway is not going to be enough. We need to ensure our system is well co-ordinated and integrated, and working significantly better for victims, their whānau, children and perpetrators. And we must be working in a way that is focused on wellbeing and safety. 

Over the past 15 years, survivors, whanau, experts and front line workers have told the government that the system is broken. People have said it doesn’t work for those affected by violence, they are re-victimised, and it’s too hard to find the support they need.

Recently the family violence sector have worked with government to develop two frameworks, one for workforce development and one for risk assessment and management. These two documents describe the capabilities actions and knowledge that domestic and family violence workers need to be most effective. These include a common approach to screening assessing and managing risk of family violence. These are good pieces of work that were done in partnership with community experts. I acknowledge these resources do not adequately include sexual violence, and we will remedy that.

Since their publication, these frameworks have been tested with organisations who have been early adopters and the cross government multi agency team for family and sexual violence has done further work to develop practice guidelines in support of their implementation. The frameworks have also been provided to CareerForce so that they can be integrated into their health and wellbeing diploma.

A great deal more work is required however to ensure the widespread incorporation of the frameworks into organisation’s policies, workforce training and development.

It is this opportunity that I want to highlight today.

Developing the workforce in government and in community requires a two-way exchange of knowledge. Although Government is where the biggest workforce is, I don’t need to tell you, that not all of the knowledge resides there.

A good example of Government learning from the community is the work SHINE has embarked on with the Ministry of Justice. There, every manager and employee is receiving information about family violence and the support available to them with managers receiving training on how to respond to it in the workplace. SHINE as a community provider is bringing its expertise into the training provided to Ministry staff enabling significant workforce development. This aims to ensure staff get the support they need and all staff are better informed and skilled when considering how to respond to family and domestic violence affecting their staff.

The second phase will be training for more than 2000 frontline staff to enable greater responsivity to the needs of court users affected by family violence or sexual violence.

I believe we can build community capacity, while we upskill our public sector, and I know we have a lot of work to do. We will be on the road to ending gender based violence when

  • Victims of violence are heard and supported to recover from trauma
  • People who use violence are supported to gain insight into their own behaviours and be accountable.
  • Whanau and workplaces and communities are supported to be resilient and promote safety and wellbeing
  • Government agencies are domestic and sexual violence informed and responsive to victim and community feedback, and
  • Communities are empowered to solve local problems.

When we talk, listen and learn together respectfully – government with communities and people with direct experience of issues like domestic and sexual violence the solutions we create will be effective and sustainable.

I want to now tell you about the passionate public servants within government agencies, who are dedicated to working with you all and the sector. The Ministry of Justice has a real commitment to co design. We know that we need your expertise to fix our system. There will be times when small groups are involved and other times when broader consultation will be required. I am keen to see us create systems that enable victims to directly input.

The Ministry of Justice is already putting this approach into practice. I know that some of you have been and are involved in the design of new service prototypes like the perpetrator risk and needs assessment service that will be needed when the currently named family and whanau violence bill comes into force. Others have been involved in discussions about how to ensure safety of victims in bail decisions and the re-design of Care of Children forms. The process for redesigning protection order application forms is also commencing and community stakeholders, and the people they represent, will be involved in that work.

I want to acknowledge the pressure our community providers are under. You are all doing your work so that you can support and ultimately end domestic and sexual violence, and often without resources and at full capacity. Being in this situation takes a real toll on the people doing this work and I want to say to providers - thank you, and you matter.

I have heard some people express concern that we are putting family and sexual violence together in a government response. I understand the concern, there is a very long history of the focus shifting between domestic and sexual violence. And: when out of focus there have been too many instances of sexual violence being subsumed into domestic violence. I am committed to ensuring we maintain the distinction between the two areas while holding both in view. I hope this will enable us to respond more coherently to the common elements and ensure we develop and understand the distinct dynamics and responses required for each.

In recent weeks I’ve been meeting with Ministerial colleagues and officials to discuss our approach to cross-government work. I had a couple of days sitting in our district courts, and talking with court staff and court victims advisors. I’ve visited many agencies involved in the integrated safety response pilots in Christchurch and Hamilton. I’ve had discussions with the Chief Victims Advisor and EEO Commissioner and met with SHINE, Women’s Refuge, TOAHNNEST, MSAC, Shakti NZFVCH, FVDRC, Children’s advocates, the Backbone Collective and NCW and the coalition for the safety of women and children, and many more wonderful NGOs. My commitment is to continue listening and working with you all. And I’m here to listen even when you don’t think we have been doing enough.

I am working with the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety to look at how we can ensure our workplaces are safe from sexual harassment, and I will also be working with the Minister for Immigration on ensuring our immigration policies support our commitment to ensuring the safety of all women and children. Living free from violence is a fundamental human right and we recognise the need for action across government and at all levels of society.

In the next few months I anticipate engaging with sexual violence services and the legal profession as I develop proposals for reform in response to the 2015 Law Commission report on the Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence. I am confident that we can make progress on these important issues and look forward to working with relevant agencies to do so.

My vision is for an integrated responsive system informed by the best evidence and the voices of those affected by violence; where prevention and early intervention is funded adequately so that we can stem the tide; and where our responses to violence enable victims to recover from trauma and people who use violence to take responsibility for attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.

This is about all of us, shining a light on violence and taking action together… for the wellbeing of women, for the wellbeing of all of us, we must continue to #pressforprogress

I look forward to working with you all as we do this.