Parliament musings and working with family violence

Jan Logie

November 14, 2020

When I was searching for wahine who work with family violence, Jan Logie was on my ‘dream list’ to interview. When the Green party was announcing new policies before the election a few months ago, I happened to sit right behind Jan - it’s a sign, I thought… And here we are: we talked about her journey into politics, day-to-day as an MP and (ex) Under Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Domestic and Sexual Violence, social justice and “not having it all figured out”.

Watch (or listen) to Jan’s kick-ass interview or if reading is more of ya thing - we transcribed the interview below :)

So to start would be great to talk a bit about when you were a kid or when you were in high school - what did you think you were gonna grow up doing?

When I was in primary school I spent a huge amount of time reading. As well as, you know, being a tomboy, being out climbing trees and building huts. I think because of that my idea of what I wanted to do in the world was different every single day and probably dependent on the book I was reading. When I was in high school, I started having quite a bad eating disorder so my sense of what I wanted to do with my life was just a bit dampened and cloudy... I do remember I did law in my first year at uni. I think I had this idea of being a lawyer but didn't really like the way of thinking that's required in law. I guess kind of fitting rules and following precedent that didn't really seem to be so deeply connected to the idea of justice that I thought I had.

How did your values evolve throughout your life? Was it always about social justice?

There was a really strong sense of justice for me as a kid. I remember not smoking pot when I was at school and part of the reason that I would articulate was that “if I got caught as a white girl it would be different to my friends who were Māori or Pacific getting caught” and having a sense that that was wrong. I think I was probably entirely wrong on that point considering that there is that absolute injustice in the system but i'm not sure my family had the connections that would have protected me. But who knows, actually!

So there was that strong feeling but I didn't really have a sense of how to achieve it or what to do about those issues. When I was at university I was really depressed and struggled to through every day. A lot of that for me was connected to a sense of being unable to control or find a way to deal with massive levels of injustices, connected to lots of friends’ and my own experiences of sexual violence. As well as I think having grown up in the 80s where there was massive cultural change, when things were shifting so much economically.

A lot of people experience this strong sense of social injustices and end up feeling overwhelmed. I think it paralyses a lot of people from doing anything which is quite unfortunate. Did you always know that you wanted to channel it through politics?  

No, not at all! And actually the thing that shifted me from feeling overwhelmed and powerless was my first job out of university, I was working for a women's refuge. I think often in the public people talk about refuge workers as people who are doing good in the world for others but actually my experience of it was that it was a huge privilege to be alongside women at a time where they were taking really big risks emotionally as well as for their own lives and their kids lives and that sense of bravery against a system that was working against them. It was really inspiring!

Also that refuge collective that I was a part of was a feminist organisation and the way we organised ourselves was to counter the systemic violence against women and children. So it was minimising those power inequalities and working out and unpacking our own beliefs and sense of privilege. It gave me a sense that actually it was possible to stand in solidarity with others and work to change this, not just be a victim of it.

Jan in a green wig walking alongside Marama Davidson at the Pride Parade holding a rainbow heart that says: Proud Green, credit to: Newsroom.co.nz
Jan in a green wig walking alongside Marama Davidson at the Pride Parade holding a rainbow heart that says: Proud Green, credit to: Newsroom.co.nz

What did you do after working in a women's refuge that inspired you to go into politics?

I had a brief stint of managing a backpackers with my girlfriend - that was an unmitigated disaster [laughs]. And then I was the first paid women’s coordinator at the university students association which was an amazing job actually because it was a very political time around the introduction of the fees into tertiary education and fighting against that. But also there was so much freedom and resources to be able to kind of look at how we could work together as women to improve and raise consciousness of oppression of women in that context. So it was actually a very cool job.

Then I worked in setting up a youth health service in the Hutt Valley which was really great and interesting. It was the first time for me working with young men or men and seeing the other side of violence against women that they were affected by, often really negatively. The violence that young men experienced; particularly men of colour and how precarious their lives were and what they were being pressured to do, and to have these really limited options for how they could express themselves. A story that's always stayed with me was from a young guy: he would run from his house to the bus and would time it perfectly so that he wouldn't get beaten up between his house and the bus and that was every single day. That was his reality in his community and so actually seeing the level of violence that a lot of the young guys were experiencing was quite an eye opener for me.

In terms of the parliamentary portfolios or things each MP focuses on - is it based on something that you know you wanted to do coming in or how does that get assigned?  

For me, I came in and in my maiden speech I spoke about wanting to change our economic systems so that we recognise that we're all interdependent on each other and are not competitive individual units working in isolation. I spoke a lot around violence against women or gender-based violence and the need to challenge that and also about the potential liberation from acknowledging diversity and talking about gender diversity. So I'm not sure how I would have felt if I hadn't gotten those portfolios [laughs], to be able to work on those issues that would have been really tough. I did get other portfolios that I knew nothing about, like immigration, in my first term that I ended up really becoming deeply passionate about but only through getting to do work on it.

I think politics can seem quite like a black box for people who are outside of it so it would be great to hear you talk about your day to day or week to week work and what does it look like?

I guess it changes completely week to week. This term I've got a role within the government which is… and I have the longest job title in the government of the ‘Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Minister of Justice on Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues’...  So usually on Mondays the parliament won't be sitting and I'll have meetings in the community and that could be anybody because I also have a role outside of government: in MSD and the rainbow portfolio, Seniors, ACC and workplace relations and Te Tiriti O Waitangi. So I may be meeting with constituent groups in any of those areas and thinking about whether that's trying to pass on concerns raised from the community to the Ministers involved to see if we can make change or so that they know about problems and can intervene. Or whether it's about thinking about what policies we could create or potential legislation to be able to change a problem. Like yesterday, we were putting out a media release to call for 10 days minimum sick leave to try and put pressure on the other parties to come to the table so that we can get that change. Or whether it's about preparing for a piece of legislation that we might have in the house. So you know, it could be all sorts of different things.

Jan Logie in green dress posing alongside 3 other Green party MPs: Chlöe Swarbrick (far right), Elizabeth Kerekere (centre right) and Ricardo Menéndez March (far left), credit to @younggreensnz instagram.
Jan Logie in green dress posing alongside 3 other Green party MPs: Chlöe Swarbrick (far right), Elizabeth Kerekere (centre right) and Ricardo Menéndez March (far left), credit to @younggreensnz instagram.

There is a big notion in the communities that the government cannot solve problems when they roll out one-size-fits-all national approaches. That communities might know better what they need and need to be empowered. What’s your take around that?

I think this is at the heart of what we need to do to end family and sexual violence - is work out how to do partnership. That's between Māori and the Crown because most of the work that we've done so far is completely through kind of a colonial lens and in the longer term it doesn't work at all, particularly in a context where it undermines an indigenous response. We have to actually start demonstrating the power sharing that we're wanting in between the government and Māori. That's also about partnership between government and community because we know that part of the limitation on our response to family violence has been that we've had this generic response - one size fits all - thinking that it works for everyone when in actual fact we know it doesn't. We made changes in the legislation last year around family violence, to help recognise some of the specific dynamics that people with disabilities or seniors may experience that are different to other people and that our system has failed to recognise or respond to. We have to work with those communities to inform this government agency on how to recognise and appropriately respond and we have to resource those communities to be able to create pathways for disclosure because they don't actually exist at the moment. That's also true for LGBTQIA+ communities because we know there's higher levels of violence experienced by bisexual and trans people but we haven't created appropriate or effective pathways for them. It's also true for many of our migrant communities. We've got the beginnings of responses in communities and organisations like Shakti and Shama who have been doing valiant work. But we need consistent understanding within all agencies to be able to get the support that people need.

Jan, if you weren't doing this work what would the alternative universe Jan be doing?

I mean... I don't know…  I think it would always be this work regardless of what the work is. I have particularly loved doing training within refuge and working with women in violent relationships and doing those programs. But also I love the creativity in teaching and the ability to explore these issues in a kind of school context. Yeah, who knows…

You have been through all these different aspects of social outcomes work. For people who might be feeling a bit overwhelmed or don't know how to contribute - do you have any sort of advice for them, something that comes to mind?

I think sometimes that answer is personal and we all have different kinds of gifts that lend themselves to contributing in different ways, like what you're doing here, you know, I don't have those skills. But for me it is about actually talking with other people, making that connection with others and taking action for change. Because that for me was the shift from feeling powerless and overwhelmed to actually feeling like - OK this might be hard, it might not be quick but at least it's possible to hold hope when you're moving.

Jan Logie and Julie Anne Genter smiling at the camera, holding a Equal Pay Amendment Bill, credit to Jan’s twitter @janlogie
Jan Logie and Julie Anne Genter smiling at the camera, holding a Equal Pay Amendment Bill, credit to Jan’s twitter @janlogie

When you look at people in positions like yours, when you are a politician and your life is very public whether on social media or being in Parliament, it might seem like you have it figured out. It might seem like, oh man, they know exactly what they're doing. I wanted to ask if you have any comments around that? Do you feel like you have everything figured out and you know exactly what you're doing?

No and no. And I personally believe that giving that appearance is part of the problem. Because actually no one person has got it sorted or could have it sorted and the more we look to one person to have this sorted the more we remove our own power and agency and actually limit the potential for a collective response. I really hope people don't look at me and think I've got things sorted or that I'm presenting or communicating in a way that might seem like I know more than others. Because at the heart of my politics and at the heart of what I believe will achieve change in the world is that we've all got this and none of us have it.

Also I know not everyone in politics has this mindset but that when the community is calling us out - for me that's an opportunity, it's not something to defend ourselves from or to say ‘no we've got this under control’. And I know that people particularly in these times want to feel like we've got it all sorted but actually having it all sorted is being open to there being more to do.

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