Montana Hurndell - Vice President VUWWIB
On July 25, members of Victoria Women in Business was invited to attend The Annual Women’s Debate 2017: Eliminating Gender Inequality. This was organised by The Zonta Club of Wellington, Graduate Women Wellington and the National Council of Women Wellington Branch.
The Annual Women’s Debate brings together politicians from various parties to discuss their stance on gender equality, and how their party will be able to bring change within this area for the upcoming election. In attendance were MPs; Metiria Turei (Green Party), Jacinda Ardern (Labour Party), Mei Reedy-Taare (Māori Party), Jenny Condie (Opportunities Party), Nicola Willis (National Party) and Tracey Martin (NZ First Party). We acknowledge that while eliminating gender discrimination does not just lie on the shoulders of politicians, it is important to have change affected from the top.
It was amazing to walk into the room and see such a diverse group of people in attendance. We sat amongst women of many ages and ethnicities, from girl guides to students, mothers and grandmothers.
However, the room was not of strictly feminine presence; there were many males in attendance. I believe this is important to note. The Annual Women’s debate is a feminist event. The word ‘feminist’ is one that many shy away from, cringe at the sound of and disdain due to the connotations of ‘man hating’.
At this point I would like to note the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘feminism’: “The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.”
The demographic of the room displayed how feminism can and should be embraced by all members of society, no matter their age, race, or gender. It is the responsibility of all of us who live in New Zealand to strive for gender equality.
The politicians were given five minutes each to communicate their views on gender equality and what policies, planning and funding their party would contribute to make a difference. What struck a chord with me is that although each politician presented different ways of tackling the issue, all agreed that the current state of affairs is unacceptable.
The panel had all experienced gender inequality in some state, which many other women in the room would be able to relate to. Following these statements there was a panel discussion where questions from the audience and supporting groups such as VUWWIB were read out.
There were many important points made. Issues included decriminalisation of abortion, funding of long term contraception, the teaching of consent in schools and the issue of domestic violence, among others.
These are all highly important issues that need to be addressed. However, as we are Victoria Women in Business, we will be focusing on the challenges that women face in the workplace.
Jacinda Ardern recalled a time when she received a pay increase in her job as a supermarket checkout operator. When she went to tell her mum, she expected excitement. She was instead disheartened to learn that her mother, a canteen worker at her school for a decade, was in fact paid less than her.
When they went to the board to ask for a pay increase for her mother, they were turned down. Women hold the majority of low paid jobs in New Zealand. Many of these women are mothers who must not only support themselves but also their children and women of Pasifika and Māori descent. Metiria Turei noted that being in low-income jobs and not earning a living wage traps women in domestic abuse, steals their potential and inhibits their children’s future. Both Labour and Green parties seek to support these women in lowly paid jobs by increasing benefits and raising the minimum wage to a living wage.
It is important to mention the perspective and statistics that Mei Reedy-Taare brought to this debate, noting that Māori and Pasifika women earn less then Pakeha women in the same job.
When a Pakeha man earns a dollar, a Pakeha woman would earn 86c of this, whereas a Māori/Pasifika woman would earn only 76c.
This point makes very clear that gender equality should not only challenge the pay difference between men and women, but also between those of different ethnicities.
In addition to being paid less, women are often looked over for promotions in favour of their male counterparts. All of the politicians present agreed that quotas are an effective way to combat this.
The politicians were questioned whether quotas encouraged positions to be filled based on gender rather than merit. Jenny Condie stated that evidence shows quotas are in fact an effective way to improve the quality of a board. A quota doesn’t put people in positions they shouldn’t be in, instead it opens it up to people who should have been there in the first place. In some countries where quotas had been introduced at board levels they had simply increased the size of the board. Therefore, no men had to get fired but more women were brought in to contribute their skills.
Jacinda Ardern of the Labour Party (who aims to raise the percentage of women in parliament to 45%) exclaimed; “are you telling me there are not 60 women in New Zealand who deserve to be in parliament?” This was met with a resounding applause.
I have never attended a political debate before and what I got was not what I expected. I say that in the most positive way, as I anticipated raised voices, butting of heads and disapproval of others’ views.
Instead we were presented with a collection of politicians that respected and even agreed in many instances with each other’s opinions. It was empowering to see that even those who have such differing political views and are currently in a heated campaign race can still come together and support a common issue.