Massey University Vice Chancellor remarks to Rural News

Over the past few days, after posting our initial response on Facebook to Massey University Chancellor’s poorly chosen words and inaccurate use of facts, we have read and listened with interest to the debate that has surrounded our post as well as others.

The conversation has covered a lot of ground and a broad range of opinion. Many have been outraged on the “poor blokes” behalf. Some are not sure “what all the fuss is about” and believe there was some truth in what he said. Others, like us, found his remarks sexist in the extreme towards both men and women.

Too often during the year we have seen people in leadership positions declare a point of view that has landed them in a public dialogue on gender equality with varying consequences. Whether prompted by conscious or unconscious bias their statements have opened up a reaction that they could never have imagined. And that is at the heart of the gender inequality problem. Everyday sexism is entrenched in too many parts of our culture and this must change.

This conversation with its multiplicity of views reveals the complexity of the gender equality issue in NZ. It highlights the absence of a basic requirement, one of 5 we have identified that New Zealand needs to successfully tackle this complex issue. This missing basic requirement is the need for a shared understanding of what gender equality and inequality is. How our lives are different due to our gender identity and where there are inequalities. We can’t take a gender neutral approach when analyzing issues or coming up with strategies as this makes differences between men and women invisible and therefore not understood.

As a society we haven’t unpacked the myths, misunderstandings, value judgments of biases that exist in our culture. We don’t understand the causes and consequences of gender inequality and structural equality and we don’t understand the gendered nature of all aspects of society at all levels and in all areas. We don’t have a common language in NZ regarding gender inequality. This is why the conversation surrounding Chancellor Kelly’s remarks has traversed such a variety of views. We don’t all agree on what sexism is and this is what needs to change. Without this common and shared understanding it makes it harder to change our words, our attitudes and behaviours around gender. It makes it harder to achieve structural equality.

Developing a shared understanding will take time and focus. NCWNZ is committed to achieving this and have a range of programmes including our gender taskforce launching in 2017. Until we come together as a society, name the inequality and seek to redress it, many will continue to individually struggle to experience their basic human right. Achieving a shared understanding of the issue will help pave the way and ensure much greater success of policies and programmes developed to create gender equality in New Zealand.

Rae Duff
President, National Council of Women NZ

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