White Ribbon dinner

  • Te Ururoa Flavell
Maori Development

Tena tatou katoa.

Thank you for the invitation to be present at this event.

This week, many men will wear a white ribbon, not because it’s a new trend, not because it’s a fashion statement, and not because it’s popular.

It’s because it’s a symbol of hope. It is hope for a world where our wahine, women, and our tamāhine, girls live in a world free from the fear of violence.

Wearing the ribbon challenges the acceptability of violence by men getting involved and helping women to break the silence.

It is a rallying point for unity on a matter that cuts at the very heart of our whānau, our families.

Prior to last the election, I was invited to two forums where candidates were invited to respond to statements given by those involved in the support agency sector. I was a little disappointed that people waited until the election to put specific issues to us especially bearing in mind that I have been an MP for nine years and seldom got invited to hui where those involved in assisting whanau could tell us/ me of the issues they face or have to deal with.

Were any candidates really going to be different in their views on violence in our country? I doubt it. Can we do something about it no matter what political party? Yes we can.

The great thing I got from those hui was that I heard the statistics. I would like to think that when people hear those stats, then the penny drops and people give the issue the attention it deserves. We need that constant wake-up call that violence is in our communities and until we get that, then our women and children will never be brave enough to step away, to speak up and brake the view that ‘no one believes me’.

Statistics suggest that one in three women will experience violence at the hand of their partner at some point in their lives. On average, 14 women will die by violence inflicted to them by their partners or ex-partners. In 2013 there were over 95,000 reports of family violence to the Police. That is simply not the Aotearoa I am proud of.

Stats can be good I suppose and tell a story, but they are not a true reflection of the real trauma of violence. I can still remember very clearly fifty or so years on, the thuds, the slamming into the walls, the crying, the yelling, the frying pan and pots hitting the floor. I remember cringing with my cousins in the top bunk of the bed, scared to go to sleep, wondering after my aunty, and feeling very helpless as a seven, eight year old. I can remember waking up and seeing my aunty coming out of the room with black eyes. All I wanted to do was get back to the safety of my home, to my mother, and I never spoke about it at all to anyone including my mum. I just didn’t want to talk about it. So even now I remember it well. I didn’t realise it until recently but understand that perhaps that is the reason that I turn the TV off or change the channel or walk away when that sort of image is on our TVs. I detest any violence on our women and children.

The point I am making is that, the effects of violence are life-changing and scar our hearts and minds forever.

Five years ago rugby league legend, Ruben Wiki was appointed as the first White Ribbon Ambassador. He grew up in a house where his mother was subjected to violence by her partner (not his father). He understood the fear. He wanted to ensure the safety of all mothers and their children.

Back then, Ruben said it takes teamwork to raise a family, “And it’ll take teamwork to create a more peaceful, respectful society for our children to grow up in. What men say and do and how we behave around our children and partners has lasting effects.”

As a husband, father and grandfather, I too believe that we must speak up when men say or do things we wouldn’t want our wives, daughters or mokopuna to experience. We need to say violence is not OK. We need to be willing to help our men; and support them to get help. We cannot and should not ignore it.

We must remember that violence isn’t limited to being physical. It is also emotional or verbal abuse used to control someone through fear. I believe that psychological violence goes unrecognised by many of us, because it is hidden and subtle. It includes threats to our kids; damage to property and possessions; stalking or following; possessiveness or excessive jealousness; isolating, blaming, name-calling and put downs; controlling what you do and scaring you.

Survivors say it attacks their spirit and self-esteem, and its effects often last longer than physical violence. Feeling worthless, depression, low self-esteem, feelings of suicide, feeling whakamā, withdrawing from whānau and friends, unable to work, self-blame, hurting others, and worst of all copying the controlling and violent behaviour. By naming this behaviour as violence, we as men say, that this behaviour is not OK.

The focus this year is on men talking the Pledge – to never commit, condone or remain silent. The Pledge is a personal commitment to change through collective responsibility. It is a commitment all my male colleagues in Parliament could sign up for. I believe that men want to be proud fathers, uncles, grandfathers and great husbands and partners. We want our kids to live in safe homes without violence.

I back the White Ribbon campaign because it sees men as being part of the solution. And that is why I became a White Ribbon Ambassador. Thankfully the campaign has also given us other ambassadors including Billy TK (Jnr), George Ngatai, Harry Ngata, Stan Walker, Takurua Tawera, Tau Huirama, Manu Caddie, Trevor Simpson, Hon. Pita Sharples and the Prime Minister, John Key. They join many other men of diverse backgrounds and cultures who are all committed to whānau being free from violence.

A life lived in fear is a life unfulfilled. We know this not just through White Ribbon campaigns, but also through initiatives like E Tū Whānau, Pasifika Proud and anti-bullying programmes like Haumaru.

Having said this, I also know that the answers and solutions lie within us. Whānau Ora is premised on the expectation that with the appropriate support in place, whānau can be self-managing and take responsibility for their own development. They can be the all-powerful drivers towards their own destiny.

It is an admirable ideal and one that I am determined to do the utmost to uphold for the security, stability, and success of all generations to come.

As politicians we are the guardians of this time. We must take seriously our responsibility to build on and enable whānau to achieve outcomes for themselves.

As men we must do whatever we can to ensure that our whānau - the girls and women we love and care about - are safe. That they live a life free of violence and a life fulfilled.

That is the future I commit to for my mokopuna, my whānau, my community and my country. It is a future I ask you to also commit to.