Are We There Yet? Women and Equality in Aotearoa

Are We There Yet? Women and Equality in Aotearoa

Venus Envy podcast interview with recently retired Shine Senior Advocate Mary McGee about domestic violence in New Zealand, following an interview with Jacinda Ardern on leadership and feminism. Hosted by Noelle McCarthy, and brought to you by The Spinoff in association with Auckland Museum.

Listen to the full interview by scrolling down to 'Venus Envy' then 'Week One'. The interview with Mary McGee starts at 18'55'', and here are her salient points:
"Every Monday, (at Shine) we’d go through the arrest list..of victims, many situations – women have injuries, in hospital with broken bones, teeth knocked out, nasty facial injuries, black eyes. I have seen it all, from the most horrific maimings right down to much ‘lesser’ incidents, but in fact sometimes there’s no correlation between the degree of injury and the effect. I recall a woman after a long period of physical abuse, one day he spat in her face, and that was the final humiliation that caused her to get away from him.

 I can recall so many nasty injuries – sometimes so bad you don’t want to repeat, you don’t want others to have to carry that around in their head. One woman had her bottom lip bitten right off. She’d known this guy only three months. He did not want her away from his side or speaking to anyone else. She spoke to her brother in the car and he did that. It is very serious stuff and it is pandemic. There’s so much of it out there.

I think it’s getting worse, the degree of violence is getting worse… But I still believe it’s a problem with a solution. We can eliminate violence from our society.

I have also worked at the Family Court as a Family Court Coordinator… Seeing injustices perpetrated by the system on women and children just made me really want to work in this field and try and do whatever I could to assist those people…. I couldn’t stay there (at the court) and watch some of the decisions being made… The men’s lobby in the early 90’s persuaded a lot of judges in that direction, but the pendulum still hasn’t swung back to the middle. There are a lot of decisions that are really misogynistic in the Family Court.

It’s a gender issue. That means that the overwhelming percentage of offenders are male. They have a sense of entitlement. The degree of violence, it’s just horrible. It comes from thousands of years of socialization and training. And it’s everywhere. If you work in it you can’t help but be affected…

Men are more likely to be believed than women. That’s why the Backbone Collective has been set up… Men are able to pursue their victims in the Family Court because they often have access to more resources, often don’t have children to look after fulltime, women don’t have same kinds of careers. These men claim to care about their children. I spoke to a woman the other day who was pursued for ten years by her partner through the court. This woman was agreeing with every single thing he suggested, he was wanting everything from the marital property. His applications to the court were not thrown out, they’re heard, given credence.

These men who are offenders are in pain and hurting, probably they were victims themselves as children. They’re angry. They have to get help. It’s not enough to take this out on their women and children, then be forced to leave. There’s so much help out there. There’s counselling and programmes.

 A lot of women give their offending partner chance after chance after chance to redeem themselves. But often they don’t, won’t, can’t.

I would love to see more decent men helping the women sort this out. Such as male employers giving victims time off work to sort stuff out. Men training to deliver programmes, big buddy guys for young men, all kinds of political work – like lobbying government for money for agencies like Shine, lobbying advertising agencies to think hard about what they’re putting out there, assisting people like Denise Ritchie at ECPAT. Thousands of women volunteers are working with this stuff but not men so much. 

Domestic violence - people in New Zealand don’t know how prevalent it is. It really is a big problem. It’s the blue bit in the flame at the centre, all the other problems come from this.
We have clients from very wealthy situations, it’s in all socioeconomic areas, but it is more prevalent in lower socioeconomic areas. This could be because women with money can get out of relationships more easily. They can go stay in a motel, they can work out their own plan of escape without calling the police.

Often it’s a lack of resources. If I’m a woman with three children and my partner isn’t working, I’m living on a benefit, only just got enough money to feed the children, how am I going to make a substantive plan to get myself and my children - in one piece - out of a dangerous situation…

It’s very difficult to leave. Even women without violence in their relationship find it difficult to leave a partner. Just think about how much more difficult it is to leave if you’re scared, if he’s threatened to kill you if you leave, if he’s threatened to hurt the children if you leave him.

Often these kids (in homes where there is domestic violence) are living with cortisol rushing through their bodies all the time. They’re living in a state of fight, flight or freeze. They’re scared, they can’t concentrate at school, they can’t eat properly, they’re not clothed properly, there’s no money. Often these guys are taking the money and spending it. The children – it’s a very difficult and sad thing, shocking.

Most New Zealanders have no idea this is going on. Most Monday mornings in Auckland, in court there’ll be 10-20 men having been arrested for assaults on their families. This is just in Auckland central policing district.

If everybody decided to really work together – judiciary, legislators, police, agencies, etc. I’m sure we would see a major difference. They say they are working together. There’s not really a real commitment, a powerful interest in changing this.

This happens because of the way men are thinking about women and about themselves and their role. I think we can change the way we think. It’s not an imperative that men beat up their partner. They can change the way they think if they want to."

“Staying at the Shine Refuge has been an absolute life changing experience for myself and my daughters. I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am for the enormous amount of help we have received from the ladies at the house.”