Step it up for Gender Equality - International Women's Day 2016

Step it up for Gender Equality - International Women's Day 2016

March 8, 2016

I have been reflecting on the women’s movement in New Zealand. In the 70’s we had the Women’s Liberation movement which had at its heart the “Working Women’s Charter” that talked about equal pay for work of equal value, equal opportunity of entry into occupations and promotions, the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sex and the introduction of parental leave for both mothers and fathers without the loss of job security, superannuation or promotion. 

Thousands of women and men attended national conventions across New Zealand. Women were a force to be reckoned with. 

In contrast, today, we have the same issues we were campaigning for in the 1970’s, however, we are silent. Germaine Greer, one of the world’s major voices for women commented after visiting New Zealand in 2012 that progress had stalled for women because New Zealand women are far too polite.

While there has been huge progress for women in New Zealand, International Women’s Day is a time to sit and reflect on where we are currently at.

83 years after the first woman was elected to our parliament, New Zealand women are not making the inroads into decision making or leadership roles we should be.

The representation of women in our House of Representatives has gone backwards, from a 34% high in 2008 to 31% at the last general election – a glacial improvement since the first MMP election of 1996 that saw women make up 29% of our parliament. 

Over the last five years, female chief executives in the public sector have increased from 16% to 40% but most are heading small to medium sized departments. 

The government’s goal of 45% women on public sector boards remains elusive with no real progress over the last decade.  Responsible Ministers have complete control over these appointments and both an individual and collective responsibility to achieve this.  

The argument is that it is hard to find “good women” for male dominated industries like building or construction. That is old fashioned speak! Good governance skills are not inherently male skills and there are more and more women working in these fields. Ministers and Directors of boards have an obligation to find these women. Equally, women need to put themselves forward. 

Progress is also slow in other aspects of leadership in New Zealand.  Female directors on Stock Exchange publically listed companies has only increased by 5%, from 12% in 2013 to 17% in 2015.   Women are also under-represented in the Judiciary, as partners in legal firms and in senior academic positions. 

The gender pay gap tracks back to a female graduates first job, where they generally start at a lower salary than men and this gender gap widens over time. In addition, women are not choosing qualifications that earn a premium such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I wish to call on all New Zealand women to stop being quiet and polite. 

We need to back ourselves, put ourselves forward for leadership opportunities on boards, have those awkward conversations with our employer regarding our starting wage as a new graduate, change our culture by insisting our partners equally share parental responsibility and paid parental care and that our places of work come on board as well. 

We can all choose to be robust, determined and steadfast in our resolve to be treated equally, paid equally with respect and dignity.

We can all ensure we instil in our daughters and our sons an understanding and a commitment to equality and fairness.

While perhaps we don’t need another feminist movement to advance our rights, change will only happen if all of us, individually and collectively back ourselves. When we all decide to step up: we are a powerful group indeed. 

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EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue

Dr Jackie Blue is committed to progressing human rights and issues of equity, particularly those that affect equal employment opportunities.

Dr Blue also has a strong commitment to advancing the participation of women in society and is the Commission's lead on stopping violence against women.

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