WHILE Zonta International members were in the middle of hanging ribbons around trees on The Strand for their Zonta Says No campaign they were confronted with the very issue they were campaining about.
For the past two weeks trees on The Strand have been decorated with white and orange ribbons and posters asking passers-by to take action to stop violence against women.
Zonta Whakatane president Deb Woollett says violence against women is a huge issue in the Eastern Bay and around the world. New Zealand has the highest rates of reported family violence in the world and Eastern Bay has some of the highest rates in the country.
“This is not how we want our community to be.”
Zonta member Jenny Dowthwaite says while they were putting the ribbons up on a very quiet Sunday afternoon they were approached by a woman fleeing a violent relationship.
“We were approached by three different people expressing their support and sharing their personal story with family violence.
“One was a woman running through town trying to escape a violent partner who was looking for her. We were able to stay with her until friends came and picked her up.”
Another was a man who told them that his daughter had had to move away to Australia to escape family violence, Another was a man who commented “I used to be one of those bad buggers. but not anymore. I changed for my children.”
Even Zonta members who had joined the club earlier this year because of concern about this issue were surprised to find so many people wanting to talk.
The club decided this year to encourage others to support those experiencing abuse by just being there for their friends and family. As one of the Zonta members says, “Leaving an abusive partner was one of the most difficult and dangerous things I’ve ever done. It took all my courage and I could not have done it without the very patient support of my family and friends, who did not give up on me even though it took years.”
Deb says violence and abuse against women is one of the most fundamental human rights abuses. “It keeps women and children in a cycle of fear and subjugation where escape is seen as too difficult for a variety of reasons.
“A woman living with the fear of violence and abuse is, at best, unable to live her life fully, and, at worst, lives in fear of dying on a daily basis. “These women’s children’s lives are often also severely impacted. This has to change if we are to grow as a society.”
Zonta Says No is a global campaign to get more people to speak up and take action rather than looking away when they see or hear aggressive and violent behaviour. Zonta International’s 1200 clubs in 63 countries, have all been committed to taking action during these 16 days.
Orange is the colour chosen by the United Nation to symbolise a brighter future free from violence. In hundreds of towns and cities across the world, prominent building and landmarks are being lit up in orange, including Christchurch Airport and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
In Whakatane, the Zonta Club has blended the orange ribbons with the more familiar white ribbon of the White Ribbon campaign. The Zonta Club of Whakatane started in June this year and has 30 members from a wide range of backgrounds all committed to empowering and supporting women and girls.
As well as helping to support essential services providing women’s education, health care and safe living conditions, Zonta clubs are involved in advocating for law and attitude changes that will help every girl reach her potential and campaigns like this one are part of this work.