Over the last two decades, a woman has held the top political role in Aotearoa New Zealand for eleven of those 20 years. It would be nice to think that we have gender equality, but although it’s getting closer, we are by no means there yet.
Earlier this year, the UN Women National Committee Aotearoa brought together Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former Prime Minister Helen Clark for a recorded discussion on a number of feminist issues. This is part of their #Trailblazing125 series of advice from prominent Kiwi women in recognition of 125 years of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Helen (yes, we refer to our leaders by their first name) has had a big influence on the mindset of many people irrespective of whether or not you agreed with her politics. It was because of her, that people like Jacinda grew up not considering that gender might be a barrier to the top political job in this country.
It seems to me that what is holding women back (in the NZ context) is not the barriers imposed on them by others, but a lack of confidence in their own ability. There is still something in the way women are conditioned by society whereby they are less likely to put themselves forward for a role than is the case for men. Hopefully that attitude is no longer encouraged.
This month, Aotearoa New Zealand is celebrating 125 years of women’s suffrage. After the celebrations die down, we should consider and evaluate what progress has really been made in the last century and a quarter.
The New Zealand $10 note, depicting Kate Shepard (1847 – 1934), a leading light in the Women’s suffrage movement in Aotearoa New Zealand.
I don’t know if today has any significance in your part of the world, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand the 19th of September is a time to reflect on a major milestone in our country’s history.
It was 124 years ago today that women won the right to vote, making New Zealand the first self-governing country where women were able to vote. However it was not until 1919 that universal suffrage was attained – the right to vote and stand for election. So in this regard, New Zealand was somewhat tardy.
While considerable progress has been made since then – for example, 46% of senior position in the public service are held by women, we still have some way to go. Women are underrepresented in Parliament (only 30% of members of Parliament are women) and in senior management roles in the private sector.
There’s still a pay parity gap. Women on average earn 9% less than men. This is mainly because many of the roles traditionally undertaken by women, and where today women still greatly outnumber men, are undervalued and and are paid poorly. For example nursing, childcare, and teaching.
In the legal and medical professions, the majority of graduates since the early 1990s have been women, yet less than 20% of senior legal partners are women, and much the same applies to senior management in the medical profession.
So while we should be proud of the progress made, it’s also a time to reflect on what each of us can to to bring about true equality.
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