President Lynn McKenzie, Zontians march through Wellington City

The Wellington Civic Square was ablaze with orange balloons, streamers and banners – Zonta’s International’s Zonta Says NO campaign colours. Orange ribbons were handed out to passersby as a symbolic statement of the Zonta says NO to violence against women campaign.

The Zonta Club of Wellington, New Zealand brought this serious issue to the attention of Wellingtonians on Sunday, 24 November. Supported by representatives from other women’s organizations, women and men got together to make a stand against gender-based violence and to highlight the “ZONTA says NO” Campaign – How safe is Wellington for women and girls.

Zonta’s International President Lynn McKenzie opened proceedings saying, “We cannot and must not ignore the fact that violence against women and girls is still pervasive in all countries and societies. One in three girls will be impacted during their lifetime,” she said, “Violence against women is in our own backyard!” How safe is our city? Are you concerned about the safety of your women and girls as they go about their business and activities in our community?

These are some of the questions that were put to mayoral candidates earlier in September at a debate organized by the Zonta Club of Wellington, facilitated by media commentator and presenter Linda Clark. While it was acknowledged that Wellington has World Health Organisation status as being a “safe city”, more can be done to further reduce violence against women and girls in Wellington.

Zonta International is committed to the prevention and eradication of violence against women and this fight has been going for many years. In 2013, as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women focused on fighting violence against women, Zonta supported the initiative with ‘Zonta Says NO’. Since June last year, the Zonta International Foundation has raised more than $650,000 to invest in international projects that focus on preventing violence against women.

Zonta clubs across the world have organized events as part of Zonta Says NO, included discussions on violence against women screenings of topical films such as The Cutting (Female Genital Mutilation), debates, walks where the distance was determined by the number of women dying in their community through violence, as well as displaying Zonta Says NO banners and hosting fundraising auctions. “It is the little ripples that create the big waves”, says Lynn McKenzie.

Heather Henare, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Refuge New Zealand, spoke after Lynn. She highlighted some New Zealand domestic violence statistics. Heather mentioned that the Refuge receives an average of 82,000 calls to its Crisis/Support lines every year. This means a crisis or support call is responded to every nine minutes of every day. 20,000 women and children needed the help of Women’s Refuge in 2013. She acknowledged Susan Cochrane for her courage in declining name suppression, preferring to call it as it was, following the conviction of her former husband for rape and assault.

In 2012-13, refuges provided 76,000 safe beds for women and children who did not feel safe to sleep in their own homes – this was an average of 209 women and children each night. The average length of stay in a safe house in the same years was 24 days for a woman and 29 days for a child. This was an increase from the previous year. 74,785 children and young people aged under 17 were present at domestic violence situations attended by police. Heather spoke of the importance of groups such as Zonta who have influences in the United Nations to help bring about awareness and change to such atrocities.

The Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown spoke and formally opened the Rally. “There are lots of good initiatives happening in our City of Wellington, of which we are proud,” she said. “We applaud the work of the groups who address the complex safety issues in Wellington. Wellington City first gained World Health Organisation (WHO) Safe Community status in 2006,” she said. “In February 2012, they were re-accredited as a WHO Safe Community. Still there are ongoing issues to be addressed. Women must feel confident to walk the city and measures such as ensuring back lanes and dark streets around our city are well lit, will ensure our women do not feel vulnerable or threatened. We as your City Council will continue to address these issues”.

Celia spoke of her threatening experience as a young person and how she was able to avoid a potential rape situation. She went on to conclude that “rape is not the fault of women or girls”. The march commenced from the Civic Square, across the bridge to the waterfront, mingling with the busy outdoor market customers until reaching its final destination Waitangi Park.

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