Open letter to John Key

Dear John.

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.

Yours sincerely,

Sue McCabe,
Chief Executive,
National Council of Women of New Zealand.

19 Responses to “Open letter to John Key”

  1. Ali Moore 22 April 2015 at 5:20 pm # Reply

    Thank you NCWNZ for your wise and considered letter to John Key. I totally support your position. I hope you receive a reply from him.

  2. jacobus van der lubbe 22 April 2015 at 5:59 pm # Reply

    Try pulling a police women’s hair and see what happens.

  3. Michael Whybro 22 April 2015 at 6:08 pm # Reply

    I call for the resignation of Sue McCabe, Chief Executive, National Council of Women of New Zealand. What a waste of space. I’ll happily receive her resignation alongside those of other “boof heads”, Race Relations Commissioner, Susan Devoy and the last of the three musketeers (or little pigs), Human Rights Commissioner, Jackie Blue. As far as I’m concerned all three could leave their BS, waste of space roles and (1) no-one would miss any of them, and (2) New Zealand would be a better place!

    • Charles Bridger 23 April 2015 at 10:01 pm # Reply

      I’m guessing you’re a National supporter Michael?

    • Julie Belding 24 April 2015 at 3:59 pm # Reply

      Steady on Mike!

      A single mischievous tweak to the pigtail is one thing, but I understand he did it more than once, and thought nothing of it. As I see it, the issue is not so much about humourless women’s libbers making a mountain out of a molehill. It’s really a matter of simple human dignity. Would anyone have dared to playfully tweak the PM’s ear? I don’t think so. We respect him because he is a PM. He needs to respect her because, although she may be “only a waitress” she is a person of dignity, made in the image of God.

  4. Liz Grant 22 April 2015 at 9:38 pm # Reply

    “We understand your actions were well-intentioned” …


    Your open letter makes some really important points about inappropriate behaviour, and you undermine them by wringing your hands with that pathetic preamble.

    Call his, repeated, behaviour what it is – creepy and inappropriate.

  5. jenny grose 22 April 2015 at 10:27 pm # Reply

    Thank you for bringing unacceptable behaviour to the attention of John Key.
    current Prime Minister. In my opinion Mr Key demeans women through his disrespectful comments about women in the

  6. Karen Doyle 23 April 2015 at 1:14 am # Reply

    Thankyou for expressing so clearly the issues around sexism, gender issues, and the correlation with domestic violence. As the late Celia Lashlie knew we in N Z need to see what a good man looks like and presuming that it would be enjoyable to have your pony tail pulled by the prime minister of N Z is a huge assumption and I think goes a long way to explaining the insidious nature of rape culture in our country.

  7. Wendy Kelling 23 April 2015 at 9:29 am # Reply

    I am so grateful you have written this letter. It details our situation in NZ so accurately that I feel a great relief. Thank you for being clear that sexism from the top is the base line on which so many of our worst problems are based – from domestic violence, to government’s treatment of sole mothers, to the reduction of women wishing to sit in boardrooms, to mention just a few. I hope you can get traction with this.

  8. ray taylor 23 April 2015 at 10:14 am # Reply

    Roger sutton stood down from his position when called out for inappropriate behaviour. Key holds a public office higher than Sutton and he gets a smack on the hand? His behaviour was completely inappropriate and unwanted and it deserves a stronger response than this. If our PM cant act in a manner befitting his office then he doesn’t deserve the position.

    • Lucy-Jane 24 April 2015 at 7:20 am # Reply

      Roger sutton stood down for his own reasons. It was not because he was made to by CERA or the public. In fact, CERA ran an enquiry into the situation and found that he had acted inappropriately but did not deam his actions as sexual harassment. He was not asked to resign.

  9. Heather Leong 24 April 2015 at 2:27 pm # Reply

    I support these comments. It would be good to have some positive actions come out of this incident and encourage increased awareness of these behaviors and thir implications.

  10. Jenny Saywood 27 April 2015 at 9:09 am # Reply

    Well done NCW. Once John Key is back in the country he will be hoping his dreadful behaviour has been forgotten. We need to continue to highlight the attitude of “horsing around” and NZ’s high rate of violence against women.


  1. On “Ponytailgate” | The Equal Justice Project - 23 April 2015

    […] there has been swift condemnation of the Prime Minister’s actions from voices as varied as the National Council of Women of New Zealand, to New Zealand Herald political editor Audrey Young, and Equal Employment Opportunities […]

  2. Should rescuers listen to Blue and not touch people without their OK – or would that be a big blue? | Alf Grumble - 23 April 2015

    […] Constituents with nothing better to do might like to check out this letter here. […]

  3. Painting a victim as a political assassin – why framing matters in the ponytail story | Cut Your Teeth - 23 April 2015

    […] National Council of Women put out an open letter saying they were disappointed by Key’s unwanted touching of a waitress. Sue McCabe, Chief […]

  4. Accidentally like a martyr | Occasionally erudite - 24 April 2015

    […] harassment and sexism is being openly discussed across the country. Key has got it in the neck from The National Council of Women and the Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue, both of whom have had well-worded, reasoned […]

  5. Abusive and creepy « The Standard - 25 April 2015

    […] the open letter from the National Council of Women. Listen to Marlyin Waring on RNZ (transcript here). Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue summed it […]

  6. White Male Privilege in NZ media « The Daily Blog - 15 May 2015

    […] National Council of Women since Sue McCabe, Chief Executive of this council, wrote a widely shared open letter to John Key in an attempt to raise awareness that Key’s sexist and bullying behaviour was part of […]

Leave a Reply