COVID-19 and family and whānau violence: What have we learnt and where to from here?

This webinar was held on 17 September 2020, with a panel of speakers:

  • Rihi Te Nana
  • Professor Denise Wilson
  • Denise Messiter
  • Rachel Smith
  • Shila Nair

See more information about the panelists.

Indications are that violence against women and children has escalated and intensified during COVID-19, in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally. This has led to the coining of the term "shadow pandemic." COVID-19 has highlighted both new and pre-existing challenges and opportunities in addressing family and whānau violence. In this webinar, the panellists explored and urged action on critical issues that have emerged during COVID-19. Some key quotes are highlighted below.

Intensification of abuse

“We were already living in a country founded on violence, with intersecting patterns of violence – huge levels of interpersonal violence, structural violence, the ongoing violence of colonisation. So the woman and children experiencing violence in their whānau and families that we were supporting before we went into COVID-19, they're already living in constricted life spaces, they're already trying to navigate their safety within a system that has completely inadequate safety options for them. They are often having to seek help from services, as Denise Wilson’s research shows, that didn’t know how to give them help in ways that were respecting of who they are and were dignifying. If you understand violence as a crime against people's self-determination, and you put a COVID context on top of that … We saw a removal of social supports but most concerningly we also saw a removal of the responsivity of services. It is concerning because I think it's recreating ways of working that many of us don't want to be working in.” ~ Rachel Smith

“Some of the government's messaging didn't serve some of our whānau well, for example the message of ‘stay home stay safe’ was a message that's counter-intuitive when you're working in the area of whānau violence. Whānau, wāhine, some of our tamariki and some of our men as well needed to leave their homes to be safe.” ~ Denise Messiter

Colonisation and racism

“People don't like the word colonisation and they don't like the word racism but actually those two kupu, those two words really define the way in which the State has grown in this country. The notion of partnership is a very scary place I think for the State to really engage with however in order to be a good partner I would encourage the Ministries to really think about: how do I best get resources to Māori communities and other vulnerable communities to do the work that they do better than Ministries?”
~ Rihi Te Nana

“As regards migrant and refugee communities, I think the experience of racism has been quite unique in many different ways especially after the Christchurch terror attacks and the aftermath of that. I think that is an additional factor that our people had to deal with in the context of COVID-19 because they're simply known as migrants and refugees so therefore [it was assumed] they have COVID. I think a large segment of communities underwent having to front up to these kind of remarks as well. I absolutely acknowledge that if the government can't get it right with Māori, they're never going to get it right with migrant and refugee communities.” ~ Shila Nair

“We make big decisions for the country to suit most of the people most of the time without thinking about some of the issues and equity is an issue for our whānau and all the inequities that they face.” ~ Denise Wilson

Relationships and resourcing

“Family violence and sexual violence is a pandemic in this country. It took an extraordinary pandemic to actually get more resources into the sector and I think that is a challenge that the government really needs to review in terms of its priorities.”
~ Rihi Te Nana

“I think it's about trust and it's about the ability for the State to look at high trust contracting – that in a nutshell would actually be a very good example of power sharing. The government demonstrated they could do that during COVID-19, really quickly. The challenge that Māori communities and providers have [now] is: what is different? What is actually different about our situation?”
~ Rihi Te Nana

“It's really important that the State lends itself to seek better relationships, better relationships with Māori providers, better relationships with hapū and whānau. If the State is reluctant to do that and as has a strong desire to go back to business as usual then our vulnerable whānau and communities will suffer.” ~ Rihi Te Nana

Power and accountability

“There is always a demand for accountability from the top down so there's always a gaze on our Māori providers but there needs to be also accountability of government and regional decisions and actions and resourcing decisions to the community, to Māori providers. At that level our whānau have a right to know why this decision was made and it's had this roll-on effect for our whānau … That's one of the things that I think we should be advocating for and under Te Tiriti that there's an obligation to be accountable to whānau, hapū, iwi.” ~ Denise Wilson

“What we’re talking about is power, isn't it, and it's not just about sharing power, it's about ceding power, it's actually allowing people who are doing the work to do the work in ways that they know is meaningful and useful to the people that they work with. But for me, it’s [also] how do we start having those conversations of what accountability looks like in that government space because as much as we need to have localised responses and ways of engaging, a lot of the people that we're helping and who need our help are still involved with national organisations, whether that be Oranga Tamariki, Police or devolved regional organisations such as our District Health Boards so we do need change and responsivity in those areas as well.” ~ Rachel Smith

Moving forward

“There are many ways to move forward and we don't all have to be doing the same thing at the same time. To create change, to be transformative, we just need to recognise that we're in that state and know who our allies are and the nature of those relationships that we have with allies that will support us to deal with or address some of the issues that we've raised around systemic and structural violence.” ~ Denise Messiter

Reflexive questions for participants

What can you do within your sphere of influence to act on the issues above?

While government level decisions have been noted in the comments above, they are also relevant for government-funded providers. How is your organisation accountable to Māori and migrant and refugee groups within the community it serves? What changes need to occur as we move into the future?

Related resources

Resources for whānau, communities and services during COVID-19 on NZFVC website

  • Te Whare Māori
  • For everyone

Now includes: Frequently Asked Questions on understanding and addressing the impacts of COVID-19