The Invisible Women of Aotearoa New Zealand

As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Banaz Mahmod, killed by a group of men on 24th January 2006, at the age of 20.

Contributed anonymously.

I want to tell you a story. It’s a story of an army of invisible women. Women of different nations, languages, and cultures, but it’s not what you think. The invisibility isn’t a superpower. It’s a life-threatening indictment, cloaking this rainbow of women from being seen and supported. It’s a cloak of invisibility from the mainstream and from the reaches of recognition and understanding.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines “violence against women” as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”. So why is it then that in this country, we refuse to name violence by its patriarchal, gendered nature? Why are we afraid to mention that we women are disproportionately impacted by insidious crimes within our own homes, mostly perpetrated by men, which we have no control over? What do we do when that patriarchy intersects with our ‘diverse’ cultural backgrounds and manifests in a range of violence and abuse that our nation has its eyes closed to?

What happens when my sisters suffer in silence from a form of violence this country won’t describe; or only merely describes in a few pieces of legislation? Documents wishing to magic away the violence without any further effort. I could tell them to go to one of the very few services that I can count on the fingers of one hand, and pray to my God that they have a good experience. Or I could tell them to live with it. Because in Aotearoa New Zealand, if your experience of gender-based violence isn’t white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, or able-bodied; otherwise known as the ‘mainstream’, then you’re not really that important to the decision-makers.

Your lot in life is to be lumped in with the rest of the entire world’s women. You, as part of the ‘ethnic’, ‘diverse’ population; where your identities are melted into one unrecognisable featureless face. These so-called ‘inclusive’ words are used to hide the real fact that you are the marginalised, the outsider. You, whose nation of ethnic origin is on a completely different crust of the Earth from the women you’re randomly grouped with; have your experiences reduced to a simplified version of what it means to be a woman of colour.

The violence in your life gets thrown into a pot of misunderstanding and mis-recognition. It’s not the typical intimate partner violence or sexual abuse that this country is used to dealing with, and dealing with poorly at that. Attesting to this fact is the poor performance of this nation in addressing gender-based violence, as per the recent update to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Your hurt in the form of so-called ‘honour-based violence’, female genital mutilation/cutting, forced marriage, sexual exploitation, trafficking, slavery, stalking, spiritual abuse, breast ironing, transnational marriage abandonment dowry-related abuse, and trauma from rape as a weapon of war, isn’t even on the menu of violence that we’re used to addressing here. When you’re not a dish that’s easily pronounceable in the language of this nation, no-one knows how to cook up the recipe that will save you from the harm in your life.

In my time here, I hope to see the tides changing so when a sister asks me what she can do to escape the violence, I can point her to a representative service that’s well funded, well-researched, and recognises her as an expert by experience. One that sees her for the unique culture she comes from and respects the language and faith she carries.

I wish for a world where this army of invisible women emerge from the shadows. When they do, I wish for them to be able to stand strong and say they live in a country that sees them, hears them, and actively responds to them.

On these 16 days of action following on from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2020, I wish for us to start eliminating all forms of gender-based violence, and not only those understood from a Pākehā perspective and experience. This might be a big wish. But my hope for this future is even bigger.

Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash.

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