September 19 will mark the 121st anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. This country is proud it was the first to give women the vote.
However, Kate Sheppard and the other women who led the charge would be shocked by how little progress has been made since then.
No advance is being made in reducing, let alone eliminating, gender-based violence. Nor has it ever been regarded as a major issue by political parties.
Although women make up 51.3 per cent of New Zealand’s population, we have the lowest incomes and are grossly under-represented in all leadership positions.
The median income for men is $13,400 more than for women, and only 7.5 per cent of board directors are female.
A Ministry of Education analysis earlier this year found female graduates earned less than their male counterparts, with male doctorate holders paid $11,400 more than females with doctorates.
In each election cycle, issues such as violence against women, the gender pay gap and the stubbornly low level of women in Parliament do not make it on to the mainstream political agenda.
The Women’s Election Agenda Aotearoa 2014 is a 100-point plan calling on parties to commit to de facto equality for women by 2020.
The agenda covers issues including violence, benefits, the workforce, Wahine Maori, disability, Parliament, health and reproduction and financial literacy.
We sent the Women’s Agenda to the 10 main political parties and asked them to advise which aspects they supported. We then marked them out of 100.
We were pleased the Maori Party, National, Labour and the Greens took the time to do detailed reviews. The Maori Party, Greens and Labour amended some policies to adopt aspects of the agenda.
Act, Mana, the Conservatives and New Zealand First did not reply and received marks of zero. The Internet Party said it was a feminist party and would respond once it had finalised its women’s policy. We have not yet received that policy.
The marks for the parties which replied were:
• Green Party, 84.5
• Labour, 67
• National, 29.5
• Maori Party, 23.5
• United Future, 8.5.
United Future said it was a small party and did not have the resources to respond in detail. Instead, it forwarded its 2011 election manifesto.
The Maori Party’s mark is artificially low because, while the party altered some policies to adopt aspects of the agenda, it failed to provide any response to many of the items.
The lack of progress on equality for women internationally appears to indicate that arguing the need for equality on the basis of fairness will not succeed.
If so, New Zealand and other nations should look at economic data. A World Economic Forum report demonstrates clearly that greater equality for women correlates with economic growth. For example, research by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific states that Japan’s GDP would rise 16 per cent if it closed its gender employment gap.
It’s time for New Zealand to honour the legacy of our suffragettes by once again taking steps to be a world leader in advancing the position of women.
Catriona MacLennan is co-ordinator of Women’s Election Agenda Aotearoa 2014.
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