By Rae Duff, National Council of Women of New Zealand President
Every year on March 8th, organisations and individuals around the world recognise and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. However, in a country as progressive as New Zealand, in which women were the first in the world to gain the right to vote and where we have had not one but two female Prime Ministers, do we really still need a day dedicated to women?
The answer is yes, we do still need to recognise the contributions of women. Despite it being better than most other places in the world (we are ranked 10th out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index), New Zealand is still not gender equal and women are largely disadvantaged by the sexism that remains in our systems.
Gender inequality persists in all aspects of our society – from health, safety and economic wellbeing, to education, influence and decision making. Examples of this include estimates of our gender pay gap ranging from women being paid 11.8 per cent to 14 per cent less; one in four women experiencing intimate partner violence or sexual violence in their lifetime; and, women only occupying 31% of seats in Parliament.
Reasons for these discrepancies are numerous and usually link back to our culture and the unconscious biases that persist in most of us. These are the stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices informed by tradition and perpetuated by our families, communities, the media and so on.
The extreme side of these assumed roles and prejudices came to the surface last month when “neo-masculinist” group “Return of Kings” organised meet-ups in cities throughout New Zealand. The group, who believe that rape should be legal on private property and women should be thin, quiet, unambitious and docile, generated significant outcries from people across the board – including those who would normally not speak out on gender issues.
While these beliefs were extreme, they exist on the same spectrum as those which are unconscious and rooted in our real lives. It exists in the same vacuum as casual sexism, rape jokes, objectification of women in media and advertising, workplace harassment, gender stereotypes – the list goes on.
It is not the extreme beliefs that are harming women the most, rather it is those that remain unseen by the majority of our population that have the greatest impact. These are the beliefs that are ingrained in us from birth and appear unconsciously throughout our lives.
Some people (as documented in many comments sections) believe we are past these beliefs, that New Zealand is a fair and equal country when it comes to gender. However, the statistics around the gender pay gap, women in leadership and governance and violence against women (as listed above) tell us an entirely different story.
New Zealand, the country in which women were the first to gain the right to vote, should be past the beliefs that inform these statistics. We need to be past these beliefs because they are harming us as well as our businesses, government, families and community.
This International Women’s Day, and every other day of the year, we call on you to recognise the contributions of women and to work to mitigate the unconscious sexism we all possess. This could be by challenging your ideas of what men and women should do and how they should act, ensuring the chores and caring work in your household is fairly shared and speaking out against gender discrimination and violence.