by Jan Logie
One hundred and nineteen years ago women in this country won the struggle for universal suffrage.
So now 119 years on I’m wondering what Kate Shepard and Meri Mangakāhia would be thinking of our parliament and our democracy today.
What would they expect of this country and Government? More I think. I expect more and I’m not even sure I’m as radical as they were.
They were obviously fans of democracy and women’s involvement in decision making and Kate stated “all that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome.”
in particular, she was concerned about establishing legal and economic independence of women from men. She was not wholly occupied with advancing women’s rights, however, also finding time to promote political reforms such as proportional representation.
Meri requested not only that Maori women be given the vote, but that they be eligible to sit in the Maori parliament, thus going a step further than the contemporary aims of the European suffrage movement.
I don’t believe it’s my place to comment on tino rangatiratanga but I would like to point out that who the Crown choses to consult with and how they consult makes a difference and the I really doubt Meri Mangakāhia would approve of the proposed process of consultation around Asset Sales. This isn’t consultation. It’s tokenism and is not too dissimilar from what she was facing when she spoke up for women’s suffrage and representation, a time when women could speak but not have a say.
I also think she might well be angry that over 120 years after she spoke out to affirm Māori women’s leadership that Māori women’s leadership has been erroded by such systemic issues as violence and gendered poverty.
Kate was a Cantabrian and a fighter for democracy. The loss of democracy in Christchurch today would surely have been a source of outrage for her.
Three big changes have removed meaningful local democracy:
School closures and mergers threaten to take the heart of many communities away. These school communities have supported people through the disasters and are a vital place of meeting and decision making in many communities. Kate would not approve.
Real decision making power has been taken from the voters for Christchurch City Council and given to an unelected Government body CERA with no plan in sight for how this power will be returned. This threatens to rebuild Christchurch of structures and infrastructure but not community. Kate would not approve.
Cantabrians have also lost their right to vote for Regional Council. If the Government appointed people on ECan are doing a good job then let the people vote them back in.
Today this Minister noted that New Zealand continues to be well-regarded internationally for our gender equality. Well except for the 50+ points the CEDAW committee suggested the State needs to work on.
The Minister acknowledges we still need to work towards greater economic independence, improved safety from violence and increased representation in all levels and types of leadership for our women but thinks the Government is ”committed to doing its part to make this a reality.”
Over the last four years this Government has refused to:
- support the extension of Paid Parental Leave
- support the extension of the In Work Tax Credit (child payment) to sole parents receiving income support and working less than 20 hours a week – most of whom are women
- ensure rest home workers in private establishments, most of whom again are women, are paid equitably with DHB staff
- support my Equal Pay Bill
Plus they’ve cut:
- Funding to Women’s Refuges
- Funding to Domestic Violence prevention education
- Funding to sexual violence support services
- State housing tenure
- the training incentive allowance for tertiary study
- the target for women’s representation on boards
- welfare entitlements
- employment rights and support for the most precarious workers
- the pay and employment unit
- Parenting choices for beneficiaries
And they’ve put through welfare reforms despite the clear knowledge that the reforms undermined women’s human rights.
The Minister has said “Government cannot do this alone.” Of course I acknowledge this is true but when I look at the list above, and know it’s not complete, I have to ask what is this Government doing and how can women in the community really make a substantive difference when they’re having to spend so much of their time picking up the pieces from the mess this Government is making.
Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m not in the mood to celebrate today.
I will happily remember and express my gratitude to Kate and Meri but I will not accept that a vote or women in parliament is enough. I’ve never been a liberal feminist and I don’t believe this Government’s agenda represents the diversity or even the majority of women regardless of the gender of the person presenting it. I expect more.