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.”