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Ruth Dyson Address Women's Action Plan meetings

Ruth Dyson Address Women's Action Plan meetings

Thank you for taking the time to come and talk about the Women's Action Plan and for inviting me to be part of those discussions.

These meetings are significant for a number of reasons, not least because they reflect a new partnership I have entered into with the umbrella organisations that represent women at a national level - the National Council of Women, Maori Women's Welfare League and Pacifica. During February and March, more than 20 formal consultation meetings are being held around the country, from Kaitaia to Invercargill. I commend these organisations for working with the Ministry of Women's Affairs to host many of these meetings. We need you because you have good networks in your communities which enable you to spread the word and engage with women (and men) at a local level.

Many more meetings are being organised informally by other community organisations and groups of women getting together over a cup of tea (or something stronger, perhaps!).

Please don't leave this meeting, thinking the job is done. I am relying on you to talk to your friends, colleagues and families over the next few weeks about the things that would make a practical difference to women's lives in the 21st century, and to let us know what those things are.

Where we are now New Zealand women have come a long way since being the first in the world to win the right to vote.

We are still out in front, with women occupying most of the top jobs today - Prime Minister, Governor General, Attorney General, Chief Justice, head of Telecom (our largest company until last year). The fact is that some women in this country are doing brilliantly. Unfortunately, their stunning success is not matched by equal representation of women in parliament or in central or local government.

In the current Labour-led government, for example, women make up around a third of MPs and roughly the same proportion of ministers. While this is significantly better than any of the other political parties, we are still too light on the ground.

Which reminds me of Glenda Jackson's impressions when she became a new MP. She said, "People have said to me that your first week in the Commons is like your first week at school. My school was never like this. People told you what to do, they were less friendly and there were more girls."

The only way to ensure that there are plenty of girls at the top in politics and indeed everywhere, is to ensure that organisations' structures promote women's involvement at all levels. New Zealand women are great leaders and we must work hard to encourage and support each other in leadership roles.

The success of a few women at the top can actually be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand it can breed complacency among young women and women in senior positions that the fight has already been won. On the other, it can create a backlash from those asserting that 'women's lib' has got completely out of hand.

Journalists who last year researched a week-long focus on women's issues in the New Zealand Herald were taken by surprise at the vehemence of some of the responses from male readers. And it's not only the men. Some of the reaction to the Women's Action Plan from women commentators like Kerry Woodham and Rosemary McLeod has also been disappointingly unsupportive, if predictable.

CEDAW In July, I am taking to New York the government's fifth report to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The document is called The Status of Women in New Zealand 2002, and it's a valuable record of women's position today, highlighting our achievements since the last report in 1998 and reminding us of the work still left to do.

I am proud that I will be able to tell the committee that, among other things in the last five years, we have:

· introduced paid parental leave, following serious concern from CEDAW about the government's lack of action throughout the 1990s; · put pay equity back on the agenda, consulting widely on the best way to reduce the gender pay gap.

· amended human rights legislation to provide a non-discrimination standard for the government;

· published the Time Use Survey, providing robust information on the paid and unpaid work of women and men;

· amended the Matrimonial Property Act to treat de facto and same sex couples similarly regarding the division of relationship property;

· implemented Te Rito: the New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy; and

· required papers submitted to Cabinet to include gender analysis and a gender implications statement.

For the first time in the report, there is a new section called Women's Views. It records the voice of women in the community, summarising key concerns and suggested actions that emerged from the public consultation. This section adds credibility to the official report, and sits alongside the separate NGO and Maori women's reports.

Challenges In spite of the progress we have made, the future continues to pose challenges for New Zealand women. There is still significant inequality between men and women and between different groups of women.

We need to recognise the special place and role of Maori women, as tangata whenua and as the heart and soul of their whanau, hapu and iwi.

Persistent inequalities continue to face many other groups of women, including Pacific, rural, refugee and migrant women, women with disabilities, and low-income women.

We also need to tackle women's family and whanau responsibilities. We have worked hard in this country for women's participation, particularly in the paid labour market, and there have been great improvements in that area. What we haven't done yet is get the right balance between paid and unpaid work.

This is not just an issue for women. Overall, a decade of a deregulated and competitive environment has reduced the quality of life for many workers of both sexes.

A lot of men also have more stress in their lives than is healthy. But women have paid the greater price because of the additional level of stress that accompanies our role as carers. Women make up 47 per cent of the paid workforce and 43 per cent of the self-employed. Yet society still expects us not only to bear children (we can't do much about that!) but also rear them, care for whanau and families, and do much of the unpaid work in our communities.

Maori and Pacific women face particular stresses because of their broader family responsibilities, concentration in low paid work, higher level of community work, and the younger age structure of their population groups.

There is a lot of talk about the need for a work/life balance. It's a debate that hasn't been properly had yet.

Unions are leading the way with research like the Council of Trade Unions' Thirty Families Project looking at the impact of work hours on New Zealand workers and their families, and its Get a Life campaign to achieve a more reasonable balance between people's work and their lives with their families and in their communities.

As part of its Future of Work Project, the Department of Labour is also undertaking a two-stage programme on work-life balance.

Women have fought hard for the right to do anything. Now we must fight for the right not to have to do everything - at least, not all at the same time. Pay equity Pay equity is another issue where there is still a lot of work to be done, and I am delighted that the issue is back on the political agenda for the first time since the National Government repealed the Employment Equity Act in 1990.

It is obvious that, left to its own devices, the market is not going to close the income gap between the sexes.

Higher qualifications have done little to address the imbalance either, with research showing the depressing fact that the gender pay gap is greater between women and men with degrees than it is between women and men with no qualifications.

Of course, pay equity - equal pay for work of equal value - is about much more than simply weighing one job against another. If true equity is to be achieved in the paid workplace, the undervaluing of women's work in general needs to be addressed, as do the particular inequities that face Maori, Pacific, migrant, young workers and workers with disabilities.

Research has shown that there are two main contributors to the gender pay gap - · the time women take out of the paid workforce to bear and rear children; and · the lower levels of pay for the caring, education and 'people' professions where women are more likely to work.

But this isn't the whole story. The gap exists not just when women reach the age where they spend less time in paid work because of children, but right from the beginning of their postgraduate careers.

Nor can it be completely explained by women dominating certain occupations. University graduate surveys have shown, for instance, that male commerce graduates start out in their careers earning on average nearly $5000 a year more than women of the same age with the same qualifications.

In other words, some of the gap simply comes down to gender stereotyping in pay rates and negotiations.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs is currently collating the 80-plus excellent submissions we received on pay equity, and I look forward to receiving the analysis shortly so that we can get on and develop appropriate solutions.

Women's Action Plan It is because of issues like work/life balance and pay equity that an action plan for New Zealand women is needed. If we are to make a real difference to women's lives in the future, we need a clear vision, a set of goals and framework for action across the whole of government.

The discussion document you are considering today is the first step in producing such a plan.

It has three key themes: · having enough money to care for ourselves and those who depend on us; · balancing our work, family, whanau and community roles; and · preserving our general well-being, including safety, security, housing, physical and mental health.

We want to know your view of life for women and girls in New Zealand, and how government and the community can best respond. We want to hear about your contributions and achievements, as well as suggestions for improvements. Please give some thought to setting priorities. We recognise that one size does not fit all. Not only are some of the issues different for different groups of women, but also some of the solutions. At the same time, it is important that we focus our energies on agreed goals, so that we do not run out of steam pulling in too many directions at the same time.

I see these consultation meetings as a great opportunity to meet women from all around the country, and I will be attending as many as my diary allows. I hope the submissions will be analysed and the action plan completed in time for me to take to New York in the middle of the year, to present to CEDAW alongside the government's report on the status of women in this country.

I know how busy you all are. I know you have given us your views before. But today, I am appealing to you to let us pick your brains one more time so that we can come with a democratic and representative action plan to successfully guide us into the future.

Our successes to date have been due to the women's movement working together, setting priorities, and making strong and steady progress. I appreciate your support and the challenges you offer, and I look forward to working with you to produce an action plan for New Zealand women of which we can all be proud.

Thank you.

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