Prue Hyman’s Column

Prue Hyman

How much should we celebrate International Women’s Day?

By Prue Hyman

Last week marked International Women’s Day. I noted it last year — mentioning domestic violence, pay equity and the need to value properly women’s caring work – and plugged my new book on the whole area.  

This year, many interesting events were held as usual and the involvement of young women was particularly evident at the Governor General’s reception, although facilitator Mihingarangi Forbes rightly noted later the under-representation of Maori women.

And this year is also the 125th anniversary of women’s universal suffrage in 1893.

Equality is a long way off

But there is still a long way to go for gender equality – and even more so for decent outcomes for lower paid, Maori, Pacific, and other minority women.

Sure we can congratulation ourselves for being the first country to achieve women’s suffrage and for the splendid acknowledgement of Kristine

Kristine Bartlett at work

Bartlett as New Zealander of the Year.

Adding 3,800 mental health and addiction support workers to the aged care settlement arising from her case – or at least starting negotiations to do so – is an important small step, but there are many groups of undervalued women workers who still need their work properly valued.

And the small changes likely to be made by government to the principles recently agreed for pay equity negotiations are insufficient to ensure cases are easy to take and appropriate comparators found in male dominated work.

Decent resourcing of the area is also vital, with recognition that only 20% or so of the workforce is now unionised and many groups of women workers outside unions have a strong case.

Ongoing sexual harassment

Meantime we have ongoing evidence of sexual harassment and bullying in workplaces, with one of the latest scandals involving young women employed as interns by Russel McVeagh.

Apparently such treatment is an open secret in the legal profession – and that profession is by no means unique.

Ex MP and feminist scholar Phillida Bunkle refers to this as ‘the culture of grooming’. With continuous grooming to present for and accept sexual access, those who resist or live outside the charmed circle of approval are excluded from many opportunities, she argues.

Such competition means that solidarity among the prey has been unusual but when it occurs it manages to shake the culture.

Whether the various enquiries and recommendations shake that culture sufficiently we have yet to see.

NZ seems often to have a million enquiries and few results. And all this covers only some aspects of the paid workforce, with reforming the welfare system to value properly women’s unpaid work another huge area.

Rosie the Rivetter

Naomi Parker Fraley (right) and the iconic WWII poster based on her life as rivetter

Let’s finish by acknowledging Rosie the Riveter, who died recently aged 96 in the US.

Naomi Parker Fraley was her real name and she is the woman immortalized in the famous picture of a blue collar woman able and willing to do ‘men’s work’ during World War Two when men had gone to the war.

They were of course eased out of such work after the war – and women remain underrepresented in the trades, with apprenticeships hard to obtain and women often having a tough time in such work.

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