New Zealand has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world, and lawmakers are aiming to change that. On July 26, the legislature passed a law that gives women 10 days of paid leave to remove themselves from an abusive situation.
According to the OECD, 33 percent of women in New Zealand experience “physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner at some time in their life,” This percentage translates to police receiving an average of over 270 family violence calls daily. Those are the reported incidents. In 2017 The New Zealand Herald estimated that 80 percent of instances of family violence went unreported.
In a narrow vote of 63-57, New Zealand’s Parliament passed the legislation, which requires businesses to allow women to take a paid leave of absence without requiring proof of abuse. The law is not a way to prevent abuse, but it makes it easier for survivors of domestic violence to start over. Ten days gives survivors time to figure out the logistics of leaving an abusive relationship, without jeopardizing their job security.
One of the goals of the new law is to help change the culture surrounding domestic violence. The OECD found that nine percent of women in New Zealand still believe that a “husband/partner is justified in beating his wife/partner under certain circumstances.”
Jan Logie, a member of parliament supporting the law, told The Guardian, “Part of this initiative is getting a whole-of-society response. We don’t just leave it to police but realize we all have a role in helping victims. It is also about changing the cultural norms and saying, ‘We all have a stake in this and it is not okay.'” Logie spent over seven years working to pass the law.
Last week’s debate over the law was less focused on cultural significance and more on whether the law would be economically beneficial. Opponents argued that the law would place an unfair and unreasonable burden on small businesses. Proponents argued that the law could reduce the amount of money the country already spends on the issue. Between police calls and prosecution, domestic violence lays a heavy burden on the state. The Guardian reported that New Zealand spends on average as little as NZ$4.1 billion and as much as NZ$7 billion each year. Funding programs to prevent family violence cost New Zealand’s Labour coalition about NZ$80 million in May when they decided on the budget.
In addition, intimate partner violence and sexual violence directly impacts work environments. The World Health Organization warns that survivors of domestic violence, “suffer isolation, inability to work, loss of wages, lack of participation in regular activities and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.” Legal Momentum, an organization that provides legal aid to women in the U.S., lists reasons that a woman might stay with an abuser. Economic dependency is one of the primary reasons.
New Zealand is not the first country to try to address domestic violence with a labor law. The Philippines passed a similar law in 2004, the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act. Several Canadian provinces also have laws on the books that allow temporary leave for domestic violence survivors, according to N.P.R.
New Zealand’s law won’t go into effect until April 1, 2019, but proponents of the law have already called it a “huge win.” The law could and should encourage other countries to adopt similar measures. In New Zealand, lawmakers should build on this momentum to take further steps to reduce the frequency of domestic violence. The next step could take the form of educational programs in schools that promote gender equality and discourage violence as a means of conflict resolution.