N.Z. in lock down: DAY 34

Yesterday was DAY 34 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

Yesterday was also DAY 1 of what I – and New Zealand – HOPE is only 14 days in LEVEL 3 lock down. Past articles have already explained LEVEL 3 compared to LEVEL 4, so I will not dwell on it here.

My parents and I celebrated the end of LEVEL 4 today with a lunch of eggs, hash browns, tomatoes and bacon cooked on the barbecue. During those 33 days for a lot of people it would have been a good family bonding exercise over learning how to work with each other, finding creative and stimulating things to do.

Going out for my daily walk this afternoon I was struck by the sheer volume of traffic on Harewood Road. Surely it cannot all have been compliant with LEVEL 3 restrictions, which enabled bubbles to bring in one or two extra family members. Surely it could not have all been going to McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King or other places serving fast food, though I was reliably informed by friends that there were queues in some cases starting before 4AM of people wanting to be the first to get a fast food fix into them.

At our place my father laid into a list a of do it yourself tasks around the house, including deferred maintenance – some of which had been on the cards for decades! – which he is feeling quite pleased about. The greater sense of accomplishment may however come when a significant portion of our cobble footpath is relevelled and re-aligned for safety reasons, for which he intends on enlisting the author’s help. With no prospect of work for a few more weeks at least, it will help to ease the boredom that will eventually start to creep in.

For some families the test of COVID19 would have been a fatal blow to relationships and marriages. An article from the United Kingdom that I read told of one particularly sad case where a man’s wife moved out during week 2 of their lock down, leaving him to deal with two energetic teenage boys. In other instances mentioned on social media couples have had huge blow ups in front of their kids, and although in some cases they appear to have immediately regretted it, the damage might be terminal.

But the worst for me has been getting regular updates from an Aunty in Southland whose husband has worsening dementia and is pretty much bed ridden in a secure unit. Because of lock down she has not been able to see him and nor have his adult children.


Supporting men to support our women

International Womens Day is today, Sunday 8 March. It was an opportunity to celebrate everything that females have contributed to society. It is a chance to acknowledge that whilst much good has been done, there is a lot more still to happen, and that not all countries are trying to move their women forward.

In 8 months time we will have International Mens Day. It will be a chance to acknowledge the contribution of men to our society, the issues we face and how we can move them forward. And it is a fully justified international day on the calendar. It is linked to I.W.D. whether either side likes it or not. Proponents of both need to realize the opportunities for co-operation are too big to ignore.

To understand fully the problems that caused the #MeToo movement to form, and which drive and will continue to help drive the problem, we must look at the upbringing of men in our society. We must look at the broken families that many sexual offenders come from, the messages that men from those kinds of hostile environments where they would have had to fend for themselves and might have grown up with no father or mother figures in their lives.

I say “we” because both men and women have contributed to this sorry state of affairs and all who have need to own their contribution. I probably sit off to one side from the mainstream #MeToo movement and that is fine by me. I want people to stop and think about why, because there is a purpose behind it.

I am different. From a very early age I have known I am different, and have grown to accept that.  A combination of hearing loss (now compensated by a hearing aid), physical handicap (which has largely been overcome, except for a slight speech impediment) and severe hypertension mean  I grew up mentally in some respects much faster than many in my age group.

It has caused me inordinate amounts of grief. When I was younger and trying to get my head around all of this, there were days when I just wanted to shut myself off from the world. The worst part was missing social cues in various social situations, such as a change of subject, interrupting, not realizing I was not involved and so on. I would get grumpy at some of my best mates for no reason and they eventually stopped being friends and to this day I regret it, but I knew no other way. The one or two times someone confronted me about things I had done or not done I would get upset that no one had the courage to tell me earlier.

When I was at intermediate I experienced heavy and prolonged bullying that only stopped when another classmate got so upset that he went home and told his dad, who rang my Mum. The following day there was an urgent meeting between my mother, myself and the teacher. The perpetrators were very lucky not to get suspended. It was a combination of physical and mental bullying – after P.E. belongings would be thrown into the girls changing quarters so that I would have no choice but to wait until they had changed and left; down trousers; flour being thrown on food I was cooking in home economics classes among other things. Both girls and boys participated in it. The worst though was actually by a girl who smashed my hearing aid.

There was mental bullying too. I was a sissy, a fat bastard, someone who would never be able to love or be loved. I was apparently a pervert and a fiddler. The accusers even arranged a boys only class meeting with the teacher to lay into me with further false accusations.

I am lucky. I had a supportive family. I learnt right from wrong before anything happened. Not everyone does. Because not all boys have that support they are prone to derailing and becoming abusers themselves, but not nearly enough is done to stop that kind of situation happening.

So, my message is simple. We should help our men folk get over bullying, because in turn we are probably doing ourselves a major favour getting them out of an environment where they might come to believe that abusing women is an acceptable idea.

If you do nothing else, show your teenage son/daughter this. It does not need to be like this, but until we accept the damage that this kind of behaviour does, #MeToo will have a purpose for existing.

Abortion legislation reaches Second Reading

Shortly the contentious legislation surrounding abortion laws will go through the Second Reading stage in Parliament. With 30 individual organizations having also signed an open letter supporting the legislation as it progresses through Parliament, including Amnesty International New Zealand, the high level of support for this contentious Bill of Parliament is considerable.

The legislation in question would enable women to voluntarily seek an abortion up to the 20 week mark of their pregnancy. At that point, they would be required to seek a statutory. The statutory test means a health practitioner will have to “reasonably believe the abortion is appropriate with regard to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health, and well-being”.

There are obvious opponents such as Right to Life, Family First, and various Christian/Catholic organizations. Their members include people like Ken Orr, head of Right to Life. I assume that if they have not already done so, these organizations will come together just like the 30 that wrote in support of the legislation, but with the polar opposite intention in mind.

To be clear I support this legislation. Not because I am a murderer as the most ardent of the conservative lobby would have one believe. Not because I am a child hating monster.

I support this legislation because New Zealand has hugely outdated legislation concerning abortion, which does not recognize, nor support the autonomy, dignity and physical being of a woman. I support this legislation because it is far too restrictive in too many instances – whether it is a woman who and whose partner took contraceptive measures to prevent pregnancy during intercourse that failed; a woman who has been sexually violated; a woman who has developed potentially life threatening complications.

But most of all, I support this legislation simply because I understand and respect a woman’s right to control her body.

The legislation passed through the First Reading of Parliament 94-23 and was sent to the Select Committee which has received submissions on it.

New Zealand First asked for a binding referendum, to address the concerns of its more conservative members, but also to draw off support for National.

Most Labour Members of Parliament and all of the Green Party were in support of the legislation when it went through its First Reading. The more left leaning National Party, Members of Parliament such as Amy Adams and Nikki Kaye supported it as well When it goes before Parliament for the Second Reading it is likely to pass, but with significantly smaller numbers – my guess will be about 65 M.P.’s.

There is one more reading after the Second Reading before a law can be submitted for Royal Assent. That is the Third Reading and will be where M.P.’s sum up their take on the legislation before sending it to a final vote. If this legislation fails here, it will be a significant instance of stalling women’s basic rights in terms of one of the most important medical procedures they might ever undertake. But if it wins, New Zealand will have overhauled one of the more conservative national laws in the western hemisphere on abortion.

And that is to be encouraged.


The need to change the narrative around men

Tuesday was International Men’s Day. To some it was a chance to celebrate the “blokiness” of being a male – sport; beer; women and being the male in the house. To others it was a day to reflect on their painful past as victims of abuse, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to and wondering what the future holds for them.

Some say it is International Men’s Day 365 days of the year. I disagree, especially if one goes by the website promoting the day in New Zealand. Six key pillars are promoted on the website:

  • To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sportsmen. There are six pillars of international men’s day:
  • To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sportsmen but every day, working-class men who are living decent, honest lives.
  • To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, childcare, and the environment.
  • To focus on men’s health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
  • To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law
  • To improve gender relations and promote gender equality

Together they combine to help with a seventh pillar:

  • To create a safer, better world; where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential

I am concerned that there is no urgency to start showing our men folk that there is a better way than the old worn out “males need to toughen up”, “stop being a sissy” nonsense. Male abuse victims exist too and unless we acknowledge the harm done to them, and help rehabilitate them, we run the risk of the worst possible outcome: the abuse done to them conditions them to commit abuse on others.

My concern about the lack of urgency stems from many sources – societal attitudes; a comprehensive lack of guidance and support for men who have realized they can help themselves; a lack of N.G.O. support. Among others. Men that are not in contact with their inner self are often the ones that wind up abusing others, starting fights and having personal issues with addiction, mental demons and so forth.

How seriously do the authorities and society at large actually want to address the issues men face? Does it understand that in order to no longer be the worst country in the O.E.C.D. for domestic violence figures, addressing these issues is an essential first step?

Without wanting to sound like an advert promoting men’s mental health – even though that is a great idea – engage your male friends and start an honest korero. Have that conversation with a mate. Are you okay? What is going on in your life? Can I help you with something?

In a few months time we will have International Womens Day. For New Zealand to improve its abomination of a track record on domestic and sexual violence we must address these issues. International Men’s Day is a perfect day to do this, just as International Women’s Day is a perfect day to push women’s issues.

Social Workers: Unappreciated workers in an unappreciated discipline

It must be tough being a social worker. Certainly New Zealand First Member of Parliament Darroch Ball certainly thinks so. In the general debate in support of a Bill of Parliament to allow foster parents or kin carers to approach Kiwi Saver to open an account on behalf of a foster child in their carer, Mr Ball alluded to the work done by social workers.

I agree with Mr Ball. Being a social worker is like being on a high rope above a pool infested with sharks. All of them would have you for dinner in a flash if you fell off. Somehow a social worker has to navigate a mine field that has any number and range of devices – distrustful parents/guardians/caregivers, a community quick to judge, terrified and/or stressed out children, among others.

They always have to be right in the eyes of everyone, who quite forgetting – possibly deliberately – that they are as human as we are, will most probably make a mistake they end up regretting at some point in their career. And even when they are right, are making all the right decisions and their clients are making progress, how many have actually heard someone say “hey, look mate, I know your job is a hard one but you are doing your best – keep it up”. It would make their day in ways I don’t think anyone but the worker in question would be able to appreciate.

They are meant to be the eyes, ears and trained practitioners doing work that increasingly teachers and other professionals such as General Practitioners who come into contact with children seem to be doing. And whilst these professionals can certainly be useful – a teacher who is dealing with a child that used to be well behaved and is now disruptive would be right to want to find out what is going on in their background.

Without doubt they have strict responsibilities to uphold. And just as in any employment there are one or two rotten apples who are just there to play the system or cause as much trouble as they can. Each case is going to be different from the preceding one.

The attrition rate must be high. Under paid, under valued, under staffed, under resourced would all be things that are true about the profession of social workers.

Parliament claims to care about social workers. And maybe it does, but how many of the 120 M.P.’s that sit in the chamber have actually sat down with a social worker in a neutral setting over coffee and just talked to them about their daily routine, the rewards and challenges that they face? And how many of them have talked to Child Youth and Family managers and tried to find out from the middle man what challenges their staff are reporting?

So, say what you will about social workers but they are probably in terms of the humanities, the least appreciated, most overworked and under paid people. But they do not need to be like this. We can do better. And if we want to improve the social statistics for New Zealand children, our mokopuna, our whanau, we must help our social workers.