Tributes to Grace Millane at the roundabout in Titirangi, Auckland. Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Grace Millane’s death reminds us of the violence so many women in NZ face

The shameful culture of violence against women in New Zealand must urgently change, writes Women’s Rights Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina Sumeo.

Grace Millane’s death is an absolute tragedy. While the details of the case are still emerging, our hearts rightly ache that we couldn’t protect Grace, a visitor to our country. Grace’s death also reminds us of the very real dangers so many women face in New Zealand.

It’s currently a radical proposition that women be able to go out into the world free from fear and expect mutual respect. To go on dates free from fear. To have a good time on holiday free from fear. To stay out when they want free from fear. To be who they are free from fear.

New Zealand has some of the worst statistics for sexual violence and violence against women in the OECD. Addressing violence and abuse remains New Zealand’s most significant human rights issue affecting women.

In 2016, there were over 118,000 police domestic violence callouts – one every five minutes. It is believed only 20% of victims report this violence to the Police.

This abhorrent situation has to change.

We know that violence against women doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens as part of a culture that perpetuates negative attitudes against women.

As a society, we can no longer let anyone brush aside our horrific statistics of violence against women.

To those that call out sexism, misogyny, harassment, body shaming and derogatory remarks, as well as psychological and physical abuse – thank you. We need more people like you.

To those who don’t, you need to start taking action. Be bothered. Stand up. Speak out. Call out violence against women, when you see it, at every opportunity. You shouldn’t only worry when it’s your wives, daughters, sisters or people you care about. We need to make sure everyone lives a life free from harassment and fear. That’s the New Zealand I want to live in.

The government should be applauded for the recently announced 30% increase in spending to address family violence; for investing $76 million over four years for front line social services; and for appointing Jan Logie as the parliamentary under-secretary on domestic and sexual violence

But we still have a long way to go. It comes down to every one of us owning up to the fact that we need to better challenge the toxic cultures that lead to violence against women. We need to stop tolerating the violation of power by men over women.

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It’s time to face up to the way society perpetuates and objectifies women as things that men deserve to have, and take, for themselves.

Calling out violence and owning up to the fact that the world we live in is not a safe place for women is not an attack on men. It’s a demand on our fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, and mates to do better

We can do better, and we must. Imagine if we could raise a society that treated women and girls with dignity, equality, respect and love. A society where women’s human rights were upheld; where women feel safe to be themselves; and men understand, respect and honour that. We owe this to all women.


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