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Blog: New Zealand is first in Commonwealth to grant paid domestic violence leave - other countries should follow suit

2 December 2020
By Kemi Ogunsanya, the Commonwealth’s gender adviser

This blog is part of the Commonwealth’s ‘16 Days of Actions’ series, designed to showcase multi-disciplinary national solutions in addressing violence against women and girls. These proven solutions build on the collective experience of the 54 member countries – representing one-third of humanity – which can be replicated elsewhere to create a safer world for every woman and girl. Read the full series here.

With police responding to a family violence incident every four minutes, New Zealand is reported to have one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the developed world.

The scourge not only takes a huge toll on the victims and their families, but costs the country’s economy up to NZ$ 7 billion every year in social, legal, care and other services. Similar to the global pattern, women and girls are disproportionately affected due to entrenched gender roles and inequalities.

Despite the regulation of international laws and national efforts to prevent and deal with family violence, women in New Zealand remain at risk in their homes.

While leaving an abusive partner may seem like a practical option, it mostly depends on whether the victims have an income or their employers are flexible enough to give them time off during the transition. 

Across the Commonwealth, labour laws provide employers with a range of provisions to respond to an employee who is experiencing domestic violence. However, these provisions do not include a statutory right to paid domestic violence leave.

Landmark legislation

This changed in April 2019 when the New Zealand parliament became the first in the Commonwealth to pass national legislation granting victims of domestic violence 10 days of paid leave.

The provision allows victims to separate from abusive partners, settle in new homes, and seek protection for themselves and their children. 

Currently, only the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario in Canada provide such comprehensive paid leave support to domestic violence victims.  

A whole-of-society response

Evidence shows perpetrators use extreme tactics to intimidate, stalk and threaten victims at their workplace – aimed at increasing their economic dependency on abusers.

That is why one of the bill’s positive aspects is that it allows victims to work from a different location so their abuser cannot find them at work. Furthermore, it also does not require them to provide excessive evidence to prove they are experiencing violence at home.

It is encouraging to see employers are overwhelmingly supporting the bill despite being wary of the financial cost, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses.

The landmark legislation is a whole-of-society effort to change cultural norms across sectors, improve the well-being of employers and empower women economically to escape abusive homes.

Community groups have also praised the bill as a pivotal step towards bringing down the high rate of domestic abuse in the country.

As the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an alarming rise in domestic violence, New Zealand once again demonstrated its decisive leadership in ending this pervasive human rights violation. The country allocated record investment to frontline services to meet the rising demand and to perpetrators’ programmes to stop them from reoffending.

Global change

We witnessed with great appreciation when similar legislation was announced by the Government of Australia in March 2019. The legislation will grant five days unpaid leave to victims to deal with a family violence situation.

Such measures should be followed across the world. There is a growing need to expand our existing national labour laws to ensure a statutory right to paid domestic violence leave for every victim, whether female or male. This should become a universal reality.

It is our moral responsibility to give victims the economic security they so desperately need to leave abusive homes and rebuild their lives.

The ‘16 Days of Actions’ blog series is part of the Commonwealth Says NO MORE campaign. Read the full series here, learn more about the Commonwealth’s work on ending violence against women and girls here – and join in the conversation on social media by using #CommonwealthSaysNOMORE.