We are disappointed to learn of your unwanted touching of a cafe worker. We appreciate your apology to her and we understand that your actions were well-intentioned and not meant to offend or do the worker any harm.
You no doubt know that it’s never okay to touch someone without their permission. You probably think that you’ve never touched someone in such a way before. However, this incident shows that you have crossed the line. You will now be aware of the impact – the worker described how vulnerable and embarrassed she felt.
We don’t see this as an isolated case and the real story is not about you. Rather, the fact that our Prime Minister has joined the list of people outed for sexism highlights how much sexism is a part of our culture. And it starts at the top.
Up and down this country, day after day, people are touched without giving their consent. At one end of the scale, it is an unwelcome pull on a pony-tail. At the other end, it’s our shocking levels of violence against women.
We need to change our culture so we don’t see touching someone as being our right, unless we know that it’s welcome. We need you to lead from the top.
It’s really hard for women to speak up when men’s sexist actions are ‘well-intentioned’. The National Council of Women of New Zealand commends this worker for her bravery in speaking up, as we expect that given our culture she will now face as much criticism as understanding and support.
We are happy to meet with you to discuss how sexism is playing out in our society. This type of well-intentioned sexism might seem harmless. But sexism has serious impacts. It’s behind the statistics your Government releases showing inequality in our pay, violence, and the lack of women in leadership.
Our organisation works to improve these statistics. We’re currently consulting on a draft white paper that outlines what our country needs to do to achieve gender equality. It looks at the role our attitudes and actions around gender play in our current state. A copy is with your Minister for Women for feedback.
Now your eyes have been opened to how easily sexism can occur, we call on you, as Prime Minister, to do more to reduce sexism and its effects in New Zealand.
National Council of Women of New Zealand.