It’s been a whirlwind week of women’s issues. I’ve been busy hearing inspiring stories from around the world about the gender pay gap, representation, stopping violence against women, work on climate change and the challenges facing working women.
This week I had the incredible privilege of representing Aotearoa New Zealand as the Minister for Women at the United Nations in New York. I led our delegation to the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), where over 7000 women from around the world are gathering to discuss the challenges and opportunities to achieve true gender equality, and negotiate global agreements on action. Improving conditions for all women and girls, and fostering greater representation and diversity in leadership, is critical to democracy and peace, and to reducing inequality, all of which are necessary to address our ecological crises and climate change.
The Gender Pay Gap
My personal highlight was discussing with other countries the different approaches they have taken to address the gender pay gap. Some countries are just starting to measure it, whereas others, including the UK, Australia, and several Scandinavian countries, have already implemented mandatory reporting. It was inspiring to hear of the great progress, and how it was achieved. I had a great chat with Ásmundur Einar Daðason, about the steps that Iceland has taken for women. Iceland is leading the world, by legalising equal pay for women!
I was able to discuss with Ministers, MPs and public servants from a number of countries the political and technical challenges they faced, and how they overcame them. The UK have done some great work on data collection, particularly on the ethnic pay gap. Australia have a larger pay gap than New Zealand, yet they have already implemented pay transparency for employers of more than 100 people – this has put useful pressure on companies to take action to end discriminatory pay practices.
I gave our National Statement (a speech to representatives from all the countries in the United Nations), where I raised climate change and the disproportionate impact that it is having on women, especially those living in rural areas. New Zealand supports the Gender Action Plan recently adopted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which seeks to promote gender-responsive climate policy. In the Pacific this means we are working to strengthen resilience and improve disaster preparedness in ways that take account of gender implications.
I had a fantastic meeting with the first woman president of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine – an incredibly impressive person that is blazing trails for wāhine Pasifika in politics, and for whom climate change is one of the most pressing issues.
Representation of Women in Politics
At the invitation of the UK, I participated in a panel about removing the barriers to women’s participation in politics. Also on the panel was an incredibly inspiring MP and feminist fromMalawi, Jessie Kabwila MP. We discussed the importance of proportional electoral systems for increasing the number of women in politics, and the role of political parties and their constitutions and processes for encouraging female and diverse candidates. Some African countries are leading the world in women’s representation in parliament.
I presented research from NZ’s Ministry for Women about the different impact that digital harm has on boys and girls. Countries that are still growing their internet infrastructure were very interested in this and I can see some ongoing collaboration arising from this. There was a lot of discussion about the #metoo campaign and the positive change it has brought.
The New Zealand Mission in New York hosted a celebration where we invited other countries to celebrate 125 years of all women in New Zealand being able to vote. It was a very proud moment for us as a country that I was glad to share with many of the NGO representatives from NZ that attended. We need to ensure that women’s rights in our country continue to be trailblazing and something to stand up on the world stage about.
Bodies and Babies
I loved meeting Government Ministers from around the world who had birthed babies in office in just the last few years. I took on board as much information as I could in the short time frame. Sometimes it is just so useful to hear from other women who have done what I hope to do, and the ways in which they coped. The warm reception and support I received was overwhelming. Many people I spoke with had heard about Jacinda’s baby. I was delighted to share my happy news as well.
The rights that I enjoy and exercise over my body are unfortunately not universally celebrated. I ensured that New Zealand spoke up on the importance of reproductive and sexual health services and rights. Women must be trusted to make decisions over their body.
I felt honoured to represent New Zealand Aotearoa on the global stage. While we still have obvious challenges such as women being underpaid and unacceptably high domestic and sexual violence rates, we must continue to learn and work together on these challenges.