Women face battle for equality

5:00 AM Thursday Nov 12, 2015
White paper finds females treated as ‘second-class citizens’ 122 years after winning world-changing vote
PSA members during the Equal Pay Day picnic on the front lawn at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
PSA members during the Equal Pay Day picnic on the front lawn at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A stocktake on women’s place in New Zealand, 122 years after the country was the first to honour women’s right to vote, says many women are still treated as “second-class citizens”.

The “white paper” by the National Council of Women says women are making progress in areas such as heading government departments and even sitting on the boards of listed companies. But New Zealand has slipped behind other countries on league tables such as the World Economic Forum’s annual gender gap index, sliding from fifth-best in the world in 2009 to 13th.

“Despite the groundswell of support and the numerous initiatives aimed at equality, statistics show we’re failing women,” the white paper says. “We need to stop treating many of our women, consciously or unconsciously, like second-class citizens.”

The paper says women are still worse off than men in areas ranging from safety and health to jobs and incomes because of a pervasive sexist culture that does not respect women and men equally.

It says women are put down by “highly sexualised representations of girls and women in the media”, “sexist jokes that make fun of and degrade women’s bodies, abilities or roles”, “rape myths that position women as ‘asking for it'”, “vast amounts of violent and demeaning pornographic imagery”, and TV sports shows that celebrate men’s achievements more than women’s.

It calls for a national plan to change social norms, educate advertising and media industries about sexist stereotyping and teach about healthy, respectful relationships in schools.

Former Green MP Sue Kedgley said her group UN Women was about to launch a local branch of a global “HeforShe” campaign encouraging men to pledge to “take action against gender discrimination and violence”.

“It’s principally a social media campaign. Half a billion men have signed up to it.”

Stalling progress

Women are now better educated than men and live longer, so why are we still talking of inequality?

The National Council of Women says women and men are still unequal in four areas: safety and health, work, economic wellbeing and influence on decision-making. It blames sexist attitudes that don’t respect women as being of equal value to men.

Are we making progress?

Yes, but it’s patchy. The Government has been running ads against domestic violence; women on NZX boards have doubled from 7 per cent in 2006 to 14 per cent; and female public service department heads have almost trebled from 14 per cent in 2010 to 38 per cent. But the gap between male and female hourly incomes, after narrowing from 28 per cent in 1974 to 12 per cent in 2008, was 13.3 per cent in September. A Grant Thornton survey found women fell from an average of 28 per cent of senior roles in NZ firms in the past decade to 19 per cent last year, 28th of 35 countries surveyed.

Why are we actually going backwards in some areas?

It could be weaker employment laws, lower union coverage and tighter state budgets.

What can we do about it?

The National Council of Women wants a national plan to change Kiwi culture that includes education in schools and targeting sexism in ads.

Read the full report here

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