Today is the day we salute the efforts of women everywhere for equity and justice for our gender and as workers.
This year, our hearts and thoughts start and finish with women in Christchurch. I spent the weekend door-knocking on the streets of Aranui, Wainoni and New Brighton which are all low-income areas hit hard by the earthquake.
About a third of the houses I visited were empty, but I spoke with a number of women who were staying on despite still having no electricity, no running water and no easily accessible toilets. I hope they all have at least one of those basic services by now.
I was moved by many stories but particularly by the struggles of women struggling to feed and care for children under these dire conditions. It turned cold and rained and there were many holes in their houses. A grandmother told me that her 8-year-old grandson hadn’t left her side in two weeks because – like many children – he is traumatised and afraid.
All the women I met were working hard to survive and look after each other. I call them all “working women” but I also take my hat off to the fantastic women volunteering with the men in relief centres of all kinds. They are working to meet need like they have never worked before.
This day also reminds us about the status of women in the job market. The lack of gender pay equity is a mark of shame on this nation. At lunchtime, I signed a pledge to work towards pay equity with the Pay Equity Challenge Coalition.
The minimum wage is far too low and badly affects women workers. The Welfare Working Group Report is not just an attack on beneficiaries, it is a multifaceted attack on lower income working women: the more draconian the benefit system and the more desperate the people, the easier it is to keep wages low. Between the recession, free market capitalist ideology from the Government, and the earthquake,we now face ridiculously huge challenges and women as usual are on the front line.
We want more than a place on a Board. Much as I would like to see more women on these boards I am yet to see the evidence that says these women become advocates for change for lower-income women.
We want more than the vision outlined by Julia Gillard when she spoke in our Parliament about ANZAC solidarity in war, sport and free trade with no mention of women’s or children’s issues.
We want our communities, especially Christchurch, to recover in a manner that upholds the dignity, the needs and the rights of all working women. Because if we achieve that goal humanity across this country will thrive!