Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Introducing Analiese: A wee rant about the importance of feminism in New Zealand

In 48 hours, I’ll be stepping down as President of Young Labour; a role which it has been an immense privilege to have held.  Despite our relatively long history, our youth wing has only had a handful of female presidents, which has always surprised me, given the relative prominence and exceptional calibre of women within our party. However, it is really encouraging to see that, gradually, more women are standing for roles of importance on our national executive.

For my first Young Labour Women blog post, I thought I’d talk a bit about why I joined the Labour party in the first place (bear with me, it has everything to do with feminism) and have a natter about the importance of feminism in New Zealand.

Despite not having any sort of political affiliation at that time, In 2008, I took over the role as the National Women’s Right Officer at the New Zealand Union of Students’ Association, advocating for women students across the country. It was a real mix of responsibilities, from advocacy work (I heard some stories that will affect me for the rest of my life) to political lobbying. It was during one of those political meetings that I was invited by the Hon. Steve Chadwick to address the Labour Women’s caucus on women’s affairs in tertiary education. Not only was I shocked that members of the government would be interested in what I, a lowly student, would have to say, but, after attending the meeting, I was pleased to find that there was a major political party that felt as though it had a real sense of egalitarianism throughout the party structure and one that valued the interests of women and the work of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. So, in a sense, it was feminism that brought me to the Party.
But that’s just an aside, really. As my term draws to a close, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about the role of women in leadership positions across the country and recently, just out of interest, really, I picked up a copy of the 2010 NZ Census of Women’s participation to see what changes the Human Rights Commission has picked up in the advancement of women’s rights in New Zealand since Labour’s term ended in 2008. What immediately jumped off the page for me was the following statement:

“New Zealand has started to slide backwards in a number of areas of female participation in governance, professional and public life. Gains made incrementally over the years are now being reversed”

I know Caitlin’s already talked about the scrapping of the Pay Equity Unit; and Tariana Turia’s decision to slash a ridiculous amount of funding ($377,000 , in fact) from groups such as the Women’s Self Defense Project. We’ve also heard in recent times that the Government are slashing funding to women’s refuges and front-line anti-violence workers around New Zealand by around $700,000 (which is especially horrifying when you consider that, every night here  in New Zealand, 206 women and children need to spend a night in a Women's Refuge safe house), but when we have a party whose former Minister for Women’s Affairs, called her entire ministry a purely 'aspirational' body, and another acting Minister of Women’s Affairs in the same term who once called it a “historic, sexist relic and should have been scrapped”, need we be really surprised that women are being thrown at the bottom of the heap?

Perhaps what I found to be the most telling aspect of the report though was the fact that it talks about the importance that New Zealand has historically placed on women’s rights and the importance of women’s issues to our sense of national identity. It states that:

“Pride in women’s progress has been an important element in our national identity…Women’s continuing advancement in governance, professional and public life in New Zealand now requires greater leadership and commitment from both men and women to prevent regression.”

It’s pretty common knowledge that we were the first country in the world to give women the vote, and that’s something we should be immensely proud of, but we can’t just leave our legacy there and say “well, that was our contribution to that cause”.

That’s so 1893.

Advocating for women’s rights is an integral part of our history and, as ladies (and gentleman) of the Left, we need to ensure that we keep fighting the good fight and ensuring that issues which affect women are not just on the table (politically speaking), but are given the active consideration that they deserve.

(Just as an aside, on Friday, I along with two other members of Young Labour, will be presenting to the Women’s sector about youth involvement in women’s issues. I’ll be sure to write you an update!)


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