10 July 2014
It was a pretty shabby, poorly lit room.
A few sad looking souls sat around in a circle, all looking at their feet.
Finally, someone spoke, albeit in a hushed and hesitant tone. “My name is David, and I am a man,” he said. He stopped for a moment but the others urged him to carry on to tell his shameful story. After all, a burden shared is a burden lightened.
When he had finished, others in the room felt sufficiently emboldened to make the same admission, and tell their awful stories. And then they all went out into the night and off home. Confession may have been good for the soul, but nothing had changed as a result.
Yes, the story is apocryphal, but it is the sort of absurd world the Leader of the Labour Party is envisioning for all men.
Meanwhile, the scourge of domestic violence continues across all communities, sadly without discrimination, right across the country. Let there be no doubt about the severity and complete unacceptability of any violence against women and children in our society. That has to stop – now – and, as the major perpetrators of that violence, men have to face up to their responsibilities in addressing it. Bold action, across the board, is required right now – not simpering, gesturing apologies for a biological fact that cannot be easily altered.
We need to take the wraps off domestic violence and expose its prevalence wherever we can. Police revelations there are around 200 reported cases every day of the year are part of that. Our aim has to be to make any tolerance of domestic violence as unacceptable as drink-driving and smoking have been made in earlier times, so that underlying social attitudes are changed.
That broad brush needs to be supported by a range of other mechanisms to be sustainable and effective. Men and women need support for and education about their respective roles as partners and parents. That is where the extension of paid parental leave to 52 weeks is so important – to give both parents the opportunity to bond with their new children, and thereby better understand their roles as parents and partners.
There needs to be more support for agencies like Women’s Refuge in the awesome and valiant work they do in helping support women and children who have been domestic violence victims. And the laws governing the prosecution of domestic violence cases need to be upgraded and properly enforced, along the lines of last week’s government announcement.
The last thing we need is the absolute trivialising of a serious social problem by fake and insincere apologies, designed more for a headline, than to do any meaningful good. The women and children of New Zealand who live in constant fear and suffering because of domestic violence deserve a far better response than that.
And I make no apology for saying so.