Catherine Delahunty

Wake-up call on women’s rights

by Catherine Delahunty

Sunday was Suffrage Day, a day on which we are urged to celebrate the struggle for Votes for Women. Determined to celebrate, I attended several suffrage events, but ended up somewhat sobered by the work we still need to do to achieve gender equity in the 21st Century.

The gender pay gap is 12 percent on average, but it ranges from 3 percent to 30 percent across the public sector.

At one event in Wellington, Minister of Women’s Affairs Pansy Wong admitted that Labour’s Sue Moroney and I had given her a “work out” on pay equity in the House last week, but she remains supremely confident that her strategies for avoiding real change to gender pay equity are sufficient.

These strategies are to encourage women into male-dominated trades, to encourage flexible working hours, to lobby for more women on boards, and to try to reduce domestic violence via on the spot safety orders. Many of these ideas have merit but will not reduce the gender pay gap.

Even more sobering was the speech by Human Rights Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Judy McGregor, who is working on the Human Rights Participation Survey about the status of women in key leadership roles, based on census data.

The survey hasn’t been completed yet, but indications are that women’s participation in leadership roles has plateaued and is slipping backwards. Numbers of women in key roles such as editors of major newspapers, heads of DHBs, national secretaries of unions, and CEOs in the public service are all trending downwards. University professors are the only field that is still improving.

What’s happening to these participation rates? Why are we losing ground? What should we do about this?

I am keen to engage in a dialogue with all women on this wake up call. Kate Sheppard would expect no less!