March Against New Zealand’s Shame

600 – 700 people marched against domestic violence, ending at parliament, today. The march was a uniting call to action to address sexual and domestic violence. There were other protests on this issue throughout the country, with the one at parliament the largest by far.

The Facebook page for the event described it as follows: Women’s Refuge, Te Ohaakii a Hine-National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together, Shakti, Relationships Aotearoa, The Pacific Islands Safety and Prevention Project, National Network of Stopping Violence Services and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services joined together to organise the march because they see the profound social and economic impact of sexual and domestic violence in their daily work and believe it’s time to act now.

The crowd was mostly women and had a lot of Maori and Pasifika. It was inspiring to see such a large turn-out at lunchtime on a workday. We gathered at Civic Square for an hour, listening to spirited waiata, then headed off towards parliament. Once we got to the gates of parliament, the organisers instructed us to take a pair of shoes and place them on the steps of the building. This was to represent all the lives lost to domestic violence in Aotearoa. Sadly, once we got to parliament, the usual fences were in place, so the shoes had to be passed to a select few who were allowed behind the fence to place them on the steps.

Next, the usual speeches commenced. Hekia Parata, National Party MP and Education Minister, was the first to speak and she did not find a welcoming crowd. The protesters let her speak for a period, but her rhetoric had the crowd booing and calling “shame”. The protesters only became more vocal when Parata talked of how funding had gone to things like GPS safety alarms. She was drowned out for much of her talk.

The second politician was Metiria Turei, Green Party co-leader, with Jan Logie, the Greens spokesperson for women and human rights, standing beside her. Metiria had the most support from the crowd out of all the politicians. She also joined in the march near the end of Lambton Quay. However, the pinnacle of her speech was a very certain declaration that the Greens had the “solution” to the problem and to vote for them was the way to that solution.

Marama Fox, Maori Party candidate for Ikaroa-Rawhiti, spoke on behalf of Tariana Turia, Maori Party co-leader, who arrived when the speeches were almost over. Marama said that domestic violence has been a problem in Aotearoa for the past 170 years, no matter what government is in power, pointing rightly to colonisation being a significant part of the problem. Unfortunately her speech ended with only an individualistic answer to the problem, saying all men need to change what’s happening in homes across this country. She said nothing about how government can put in measures to alleviate the situation, nor about how economics is part of the problem. The Maori Party has done little to stop the increasing levels of inequality in Aotearoa while they have been in partnership with the National Party.

The fourth politician to speak was Carol Beaumont, Labour’s spokesperson for women’s affairs. Her speech was in essence a slightly-less-inspiring version of what Metiria had said.

Ariana Paretutangaui-Tamati, Mana candidate for Rongotai, was the last of the MPs or candidates to korero. She had the best holistic speech, talking about her family’s experience with domestic violence, the fact that individuals need to make change, and that government needs to have better policy in place around family violence. Unlike all the speakers before her, Ariana also brought in important related issues. She described the Mana policy to get rid of prisons and instead have rehabilitation centres. People who are violent towards their whanau are currently sent to prison for short sentences and it’s expected that this will be punishment for them not to be abusive in future. Extending the sentences, as groups like Sensible Sentencing argue, is not the answer as prison has been proven not to work in a punitive sense. Mana has the right answer here, and a very radical one compared to other political parties. Ariana also touched on the growth of neoliberalism in Aotearoa, which undoubtedly has contributed to the domestic violence problem here.

After the MPs and their representatives spoke, people from various NGOs working against domestic violence said their pieces. Women’s Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said the march gave a clear message to Kiwis that the Government didn’t see stopping domestic violence as a priority.  More than 200 women a night in New Zealand require a shelter to sleep, yet there has been no increase in funding for refuges for six years, she said.

Next to the speakers stood a glass statue of Kate Sheppard that was intended to be put inside parliament, but the Speaker had refused to allow it. The sculpture had hundreds of signatures of New Zealanders who want to take united action against violence and was meant to be displayed in Parliament for three months.

Photos credit: Dan Simpson Beck