Our ride against violence

JO BELWORTHY
Last updated 05:00 20/11/2012
White Ribbon Riders

IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Phil Paikea, centre, and the White Ribbon Riders are coming to town to share their message that violence in the family is not cool.

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The day Phil Paikea's girlfriend threatened to walk out on him with their young daughter was the day his life turned around.

That day, more than 20 years ago, is cemented in his mind. The thought of losing his family was enough of a spur for him to change his ways.

The former gang member says the threat of losing his girlfriend, now his wife, started a chain of events that has seen him embrace a life so different to the one he grew up in.

It has been a hard journey, but one he is happy to share and when the spokesman for the Northland leg of the White Ribbon Ride heads into Dargaville on his Harley on November 24 he will be doing so with the hope that he can turn the lives of many other families around too.

Phil was a violent partner and says that when his girlfriend threatened to leave, he knew he had to change.

"I was still in the gang and it was that [the ultimatum] and standing before a district court judge looking at a lengthy prison sentence that made me change.

"The judge gave me a break and set me free and told me I needed to get organised or prison would be my future."

He says people are frightened of change but once he made his mind up, there was no looking back.

"I've gone from strength to strength. My whole family supports me and it's become infectious," he says.

Three weeks ago, Phil and his wife Rowena renewed their wedding vows. The couple has been together since Rowena was 16.

With one call made every six minutes to police reporting family violence, one in three women experiencing violence from a partner in their lifetime and 14 dying each year at the hands of a member of their own family, Phil's story could so easily have had a different ending.

Phil is one of the initiators of the White Ribbon Ride, which started in Ruakaka in 2008 and has since spread nationwide.

The aim of the ride, held every November - White Ribbon Month - is to offer men the opportunity to be part of the solution to end violence towards women and children.

The ride had its beginnings in 1998 when a young Northland girl was killed in South Auckland by her extended family. Phil rallied some people together and held a protest march.

"We were all against family violence."

He says after a few more homicides and child deaths "we decided to do some more".

Alongside his work colleagues at Bream Bay Community Trust, the idea of a bike ride was born, stemming from the fact that "men like bikes and cars".

Whangarei Rod and Customs and Northern Street Rods came on board and were joined on the first ride by the Super Maori Fullas "from down country", the Patriots Defence Force Motorcycle Club made up of current and former members of the armed services and local bike enthusiasts.

"They liked it so much, saw the potential and asked if they could take it nationwide," Phil says.

About 100 riders joined the first ride.

THE CAMPAIGN

The White Ribbon campaign in New Zealand is a meld of the White Ribbon Day movement in Canada and the United Nations international day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is celebrated on November 25 each year.

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The first White Ribbon Campaign was launched by a group of men in Canada after the brutal mass shooting of 14 female students at the University of Montreal in 1991.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women introduced White Ribbon Day to New Zealand in 2004.

In 2006, The Families Commission embraced White Ribbon Day as part of its work to raise awareness of family violence and encourage social change.

During 2009 the first White Ribbon Ambassador, Ruben Wiki, was appointed to provide leadership to spread the White Ribbon message. The same year other key projects were introduced such as the White Ribbon Ride.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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