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Domestic abuse barrier to women in workplace

Domestic abuse barrier to women’s involvement in workforce

Violence against women is a major barrier to their increased participation in the New Zealand workforce, says social scientist Emma Davies of AUT’s Institute of Public Policy.

Domestic violence not only costs employers and the taxpayer through the health, welfare and justice systems, it also prevents women and children from contributing more to the social and economic development of the nation, says Dr Davies, the institute’s Programme Leader of Children and Families.

“As we debate how to get more women into the paid workforce, we need to acknowledge that violence against women is a considerable barrier to participation,” she told the Parliamentarians’ Group on Population and Development in Wellington this week (Monday, March 7).

“Women living with domestic violence talk about partners preventing them from working or undermining their attempts to further their education or careers. Some women talk about the struggles of keeping up employment; be it from the pain of physical injuries or the harassment by their partner at work.”

Dr Davies says domestic violence, built on abuse of power, permeates our backyards. Economist Suzanne Snively has estimated - based on a domestic violence prevalence rate of 1 in 7 working women - that domestic violence costs New Zealand employers $NZ2.9 million in lost working days and productivity annually. A Brisbane City Council study estimated the economic costs of domestic violence on businesses and corporations at more than A$1.5 billion in 1999. This included direct costs, such as absenteeism, staff turnover and lost productivity, and indirect costs, such as tax share of public sector costs.

“It is tempting to believe that violence against women and children only occurs in other people’s communities,” says Dr Davies. “In reality, violence against women and children does not appear to be confined to one culture or one time in history. Neither is it exclusively reserved for those who live in poverty. Nevertheless, poverty does exacerbate risks and limit options.

“Witnessing domestic violence often has the same psychological and developmental effects as being a direct victim of abuse. Children will often experience fear and intimidation, even when adults do not think they can hear or see the violence. Many of these children are also being physically abused by those supposed to care for them.

“Children are often used as pawns in these power games. When one is sleep deprived, your life is in turmoil and perpetual crisis, it is hard, if not impossible, to be a reliable parent or a reliable employee.

“If we try to prevent domestic violence as a compartmentalised problem we are likely to have only minimal success. It is unrealistic to expect our domestic violence agencies and criminal justice system to prevent family violence on their own. “Our task is to challenge the social norms of society where violence is passively or actively condoned as an appropriate means of conflict resolution. This includes challenging the many New Zealanders who want the right to hit their children or the part legislation plays in perpetuating this as a standard of family behaviour. It includes men challenging men on what it means to be a ‘real’ man. This isn’t always popular.

“Somehow, violence prevention has to become a genuine long-term priority for society - through marae, churches and mosques; through schools, sports clubs and workplaces; through our democratically elected leaders to the Treasury.

“Economists can’t continue to lead our decision-making in how to deal with social problems. Economists have been spectacularly unsuccessful in attempts to apply models and theories to the reality of our civilisation. Violence is part of that reality.

“Perhaps our public service has become too fixated on efficiency at the expense of effectiveness in our approaches to social problems.

“Effective solutions are about content and policy delivery. They are about what we do. They require us to think creatively and learn from our mistakes. Yet our institutions are run by managers. Risk managers will not provide the paths to preventing violence. Perhaps the biggest risk is that they inhibit those who might.”

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