A who's who of prominent women challenge men and the Government to act in the wake of Grace Millane's murder - Kogonuso

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Dec 15, 2018

A who's who of prominent women challenge men and the Government to act in the wake of Grace Millane's murder

Two former prime ministers are among prominent women calling on men and the Government to make changes in the wake of English backpacker Grace Millane's death.

The call is made in an open letter signed by more than 40 women including Helen Clark and Dame Jenny Shipley, former governor-general Dame Silvia Cartwright, business leaders Theresa Gattung, Joan Withers and Dame Trelise Cooper, along with stars from the arts, science and media.

The letter, which will be sent to the Prime Minister's office today, makes a promise to Millane "to do better as a nation". She was last seen alive on December 1 on the eve of her 22nd birthday. A 26-year-old man was charged with her murder on December 8 before her body was found the following day.

Signatories in today's letter ask the Government to adopt a comprehensive and cross-party strategy aimed at preventing violence against women and to run public awareness and behavioural change programmes involving teachers, media and social media.

They ask men to respect women and to challenge men who discuss women in a degrading manner and to step in if they see a woman being harassed or abused by a man.

And they ask men not to be defensive.

"Women going on solo adventures or meeting new people on dates are not the problem here. Men who commit acts of violence against women are," the letter states.

Organisers Laura O'Connell-Rapira, director of campaigning organisation ActionStation, and Weekend Herald columnist Lizzie Marvelly said they wanted to ensure positive change followed.

"We don't see this as an isolated incident," O'Connell-Rapira said. "We saw it as the outcome of a culture in which violence sadly is far too prevalent."

They were pleased but not surprised so many people backed the letter in such a short time.

Shipley and Clark added their names from China, where they are travelling.

"All of us have a role to play, but for this open letter, we thought we would speak directly to men and to the Government," O'Connell-Rapira said.

"There was a lot of victim-blaming, it seemed to me, and we wanted to [point out] that it is not women who go on dates and who use Tinder that is the problem, it is violence committed against those women, usually by men."

Marvelly said those who signed were distraught at Millane's death but also aware on average 14 women were murdered each year.

"We want to say, 'enough'. Yes, we need to grieve, but we also need to take some action. Things like [Millane's death] make you more aware of how vulnerable you can be and they can make you feel a bit powerless. This letter for me was a way of taking action and not to just accept that these things will continue to happen."

The death sparked vigils up and down the country throughout the week attended by thousands of people paying their respects and calling for change. More than 800 attended two vigils in Auckland on Wednesday.

One was beside the Sky Tower, where Millane was seen on CCTV hours before she disappeared.

Marches and vigils will be held today in Christchurch, Tauranga and Auckland.

The Government in September committed to come up with a cross-department plan to address family and sexual violence and support victims.

O'Connell-Rapira said Green Party list MP Jan Logie and Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni deserved kudos as key people driving the initiative.

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