International Womens Day was celebrated yesterday. As we look forward to next year it is worth noting that there has been progress in some areas, but other areas relating to the rights and social progress of our wahine (women)have slowed or even gone backwards.
The challenges are as numerous as they are varied. The major ones are:
- Women are paid significantly less than men in equivalent roles
- Despite no official constraints existing, there is only a very small number of women on corporate boards, with potential candidate citing “invisible walls”
- Domestic and sexual violence remains a scourge on New Zealand’s international image
- Rampant sexism, both casual and institutionalized exists throughout the country at home, at the pub and in the work place
The case of women being underpaid was recently highlighted by columnist and former television presenter Alison Mau. When asked to take over as presenter of a programme in 2004, Ms Mau had no hesitation in saying yes, but on one condition: she be paid the same as the presenter who had just quit. She remembers to this day being told that this was not going to happen, despite having credentials as good and in some respects better than her predecessor.
It is generally well known that the number of women on corporate boards in New Zealand is minimal. Large corporates and smaller ones alike acknowledge the scarcity of female representatives. The rules governing boards do not in themselves forbid women from standing, so much as the culture of the companies at large whose boards are lacking female representation, needs change. This can only happen by an all inclusive approach at all levels, from the lowest ranked staff member through to the C.E.O., and Board Chair.
There is one ray of sunshine shining down on women in New Zealand. The Government has just had a change of mind about the Green Party Bill of Parliament to allow 10 days of paid annual leave for victims of domestic violence. More pleasing still, some large employers are already indicating their support, including The Warehouse. It helps to offset an otherwise disappointing lack of progress being made in addressing the causes, the effects and the consequences of this black stain on New Zealand.
But New Zealand has significant advantages, it has to be said over some western and westernized countries. In the United States no allowance for maternity leave exists in law. The United States is not a signatory nor likely to become one anytime soon to the Conventional on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (C.E.D.A.W.). In their country not being a member, American women lack an international convention that helps to prevent discrimination against their person and denial of their rights as a human being.
Whilst we celebrate International Womens Day in New Zealand, it is very much a work in progress. There are things to celebrate and there are things we as New Zealanders rue, but when compared with some other countries, it could be worse.