Paid Leave In New Zealand For Victims of Domestic Violence Praised Globally

By Carmen Arroyo
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 5 2018 (IPS)

Domestic violence in New Zealand is one of the highest rates in the developing world and recent legislation there that gives victims of domestic violence 10 days of paid leave, without having to present any documentation in support, has been praised across the globe.

The Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill was passed at the end of July with 63 to 57 votes and was launched by Green member of parliament Jan Logie.

“We were very happy to hear about the passage of legislation in New Zealand affording victims of domestic violence 10 days of paid leave and scheduled flexibility from their employment to leave their partners, find new homes and protect themselves and their children,” Kristine Lizdas, legal policy director at Battered Women’s Justice Project (BWJP), shared with IPS.

According to United Nations Women, 70 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.

“Such policy can contribute to and facilitate the exercise of the right of women who experience domestic violence in New Zealand to support, services and protection for themselves and for their children,” Juncal Plazaola, an expert on ending gender violence at U.N. Women, told IPS.

Back in 2004, the Philippines also passed the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004, which provided the same 10 days of paid leave to victims of domestic violence.

Civil society and law experts have analysed the benefits of this new policy, given that women who suffer from domestic violence underperform at work. In the United States, victims of domestic violence lose around 10 days of paid work every year, and they work 10 percent of hours less than those who do not suffer from abuse at home.

Plazaola, from U.N. Women, explained: “Women can be constantly harassed at work, delayed getting to work or prevented from going to work. This can lead to either quitting their job or being terminated.” Seeing these types of occurrences, it is vital to promote a corporate environment that takes this reality into account.

“Women who experience domestic violence have high rates of absenteeism at work and such a measure can support them keep their employment. This policy can therefore contribute to more job security, economic opportunities and independence and greater chances for abused women to abandon an abusive relationship,” Plazaola added.

Employment and labour attorney Mark I. Shickman, from Freeland Cooper & Foreman LLP, also expressed his agreement with the New Zealand policy: “Employers can allow time off to do what is necessary legally or medically without fear of adverse work consequence or lack of confidentiality.”

However, he did not idealise it.

“Employment accommodations won’t solve every problem, but they are a big help. Vulnerable survivors do not want to risk the work situation which is often their most secure environment, so knowing that they cannot be retaliated against or fired for the time they need to speak to law enforcement, or to counsellors, or to children/family agencies, etc., is a huge help,” Schickman said.

Regarding the risks of the policy—as it does not require the victim to justify in any way that she/he is being abused—all experts seemed optimistic. The risk of the company being subject to fraud by its employees are low.

“The benefits of the law far outweigh the risks involved. The prevalence of false reporting is historically hyperbolised in many contexts. Very few individuals will fraudulently assert that they are victims of domestic violence for the sole purpose of receiving paid leave days,” Lizdas, from BWJP, said.

Plazaola agreed with her by saying that this policy “will most probably contribute to more empowered and satisfied staff with higher productivity.” The issue, she claimed, is not fraud, as most cases are not reported; less than 40 percent of women who have been abused do not look for help.

“Reasons for this often include shame, as well as blame, from one-self and from others. Therefore, it is not expected that this type of measures will lead to an over- or mis-use of it,” she concluded.

For Lizdas, this kind of policy was a good way to avoid victims’ isolation: “If awareness of intimate partner violence pervades the private/corporate sectors, as well as employers more generally, and if employers are incentivised to identify and provide assistance to employees suspected of being victims of IPV, this should have the effect of reducing victims’ isolation.”

Isolation, an abusive relationship, and a lack of external help increase the risk of domestic violence; at least half of the women victims of homicide every year have been killed by their intimate partners. But homicide is the last step of a violent relationship.

“An abusive relationship doesn’t start with murder, but the abuse escalates and without timely intervention and support, the women may end up murdered,” Plazaola said.

Asked how to avoid this fatal ending, Plazaola was adamant: “We need  legislation and policies on femicide, as well as the tools to properly investigate and punish all forms of violence against women, including femicide. Ending impunity is critical.”

Lizdas agreed: “Reducing intimate partner homicide requires a commitment from a wide variety of social sectors – legal, medical, public health, education, social service, military, etc.”

However, in the U.S, there is another factor that plays into the numbers of female homicide—the easy access to guns. In 2015, 55 percent of the intimate partner homicides in the U.S. were by gun. Shickman warned IPS: “The first issue is getting guns out of the house.”

“Abused women are five times more likely to be killed if the abuser has a gun,” he added.

For Plazaola, the solution to end, or at least reduce, the number of fatal victims on the hands of an intimate partner lies within the whole society.

“Understanding that femicide is the ultimate act in a chain of acts of violence against women, means understanding that health sector, social services, the police and the justice sectors must work together,” she said.

“Having policies that recognise the rights of abused women to protection as well as to other measures that will help them deal with the consequences and harm of this violence, can help us all have a better understanding of their realities, and can contribute to questioning the blaming and shaming too often associated with it.”

Protecting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as They are Forced to Move into Cities

Sharmila Munda, a woman from the Shantal indigenous community in Chatra, Bangladesh, collects wood for her livelihood. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker / IPS

By Sopho Kharazi
STEPANTSMINDA, Georgia, Aug 5 2018 (IPS)

On Aug. 9 the observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will take place in the Economic and Social Council Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, bringing together U.N. agencies and member states, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations.

This year’s day is themed “Indigenous Peoples’ Migration and Movement.” It examines conditions in the territories of indigenous peoples; causes of migration, trans-border movement and displacement; and how to reinvigorate the identities of indigenous peoples and protect their rights internationally.

In an event organised by the Secretariat of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a panel will focus discussion on indigenous peoples living in “urban areas and across international borders”.

Indigenous people have unique languages, follow diverse traditions, have a special relationship with their land and have different ideas about the concept of development. However, instead of nurturing and preserving the uniqueness of these people, they are being neglected by the governments and communities of the countries in which they live.

“Despite their cultural diversity and homelands across 90 countries, [indigenous peoples] share common challenges related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples. Three hundred and seventy million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the world’s population but account for 15 percent of the poorest,” Irina Bokova, director general of U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), said at last year’s event.

The situation is worsened by the fact that their identities and rights to “lands, territories and resources” are being challenged. All together, land dispossession or forcible removal of indigenous peoples from their land, “poverty, militarisation, natural disasters, lack of employment opportunities, and the deterioration of traditional livelihoods,” represent push factors leading to the migration of indigenous peoples to urban areas, according to the U.N.

One of the most vivid examples of land dispossession is the case of the Ogiek community from Kenya, east Africa.

In 2015, the Siemenpuu Foundation, a Finish non-governmental organisation (NGO) that supports environmental and democratic initiatives, interviewed Peter Kitelo, a Kenyan from the Ogiek community who lived in Mountain Elgon Forest.

The Kenyan government transformed some parts of the forest into “game reserves” while other parts of forest were sold as private property. All these actions led to the eviction of the Ogiek from their lands.

Migration from their land does not only mean the loss of property for the Ogiek. According to Kitelo, Ogiek people “don’t conserve the forest. They look at [a] forest as you look at [a] human being. Like it’s just there.”

These words, on the one hand, demonstrate the special relationship between indigenous peoples and their lands. On the other hand, they show how land dispossession underestimates identities and the sense of self-determination of indigenous peoples.

Today, approximately 40 percent of Latin America’s indigenous peoples live in cities, according to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Despite this, nobody talks about how indigenous peoples alter after migrating to urban areas. It is well-known that indigenous peoples face hardships integrating into society as they are frequently neglected, deprived of health services, education and proper employment. However, this still does not demonstrate the emotional and mental struggles of indigenous migrants.

In an interview with NGO Rio on Watch, José Urutau Guajajara, one of the key leaders in the movement for indigenous rights in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said that since the dominant culture within the city “is very strong, they [indigenous peoples] change.”

“The head changes and the person changes. Indigenous people don’t believe in themselves. They reject themselves. This rejection comes from the influence of the dominant culture, in all its forms: spiritual, ethnic, in the language, and the entire culture in general.

“It’s a psychological erasure, a complete erasure. It’s very difficult to practice your culture, especially in urban spaces and in the communities. You’ve got to be living with relatives, or else you don’t practice and you’re swallowed up by the dominant culture. So you can’t reject it,” Guajajara had said.

This idea is supported by Caroline Stephens, who examines impacts of urbanisation on indigenous peoples in her book State of the World’s Minorities. According to her, indigenous youth, who are sometimes victims of racism in cities, stop recognising themselves as indigenous as they consider their origin and distinct appearance the reason for their victimisation. This shows how marginalisation and discrimination forces indigenous peoples living in urban areas to consciously reject their self-identification.

In order to solve the problem accompanying indigenous migrations, the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has published some recommendations.

First, relevant states should cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to establish centres for them in urban areas. These centres should provide medical and legal assistance to indigenous migrants.

Second, relevant states should recognise the rights of indigenous peoples in accordance to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and should help forcefully displaced indigenous migrants return to their communities.

Finally, the U.N. recommends that relevant states should cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to employ them and help them develop economically.

As Bokova stated, “this will not only be beneficial to indigenous peoples but for all of humanity and our planet.”