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Maxim Institute - real issues No. Fifty-Six

Maxim Institute - real issues this week: No. Fifty-Six

Contents: Women not independent economic units - UK Weddings at 100-year low - Fewer people are marrying but there are consequences - Common law becoming less common the framework of our law is changing.

Women not 'independent economic units'

A paper by London School of Economics economist Catherine Hakim challenges the feminist assumption that women should all be seen as 'economically independent agents'. Hakim identifies a 20 - 60 - 20 percent split in women's work-lifestyle preferences. She writes: 'A substantial minority of women, 20 percent, remain home-centred and family-centred in their values and lifestyle preferences. Roughly 20 percent are work-centred and careerist in the same way that men are said to be work-centred and careerist. Around 60 percent of women are adaptive, and the exact percentages will vary from one country to another and one region to another because these are estimates rather than fixed points.'

In other words, the reality of women's lives shows that some have aspirations for paid employment, others for rearing children at home and a large group are 'adaptable'. This is in stark contrast to the Ministry for Women's Affairs (MWA), which states in the recent document Towards an Action Plan for New Zealand Women that the Government wants 'to improve women's economic status and well-being now and into the future' (p. 7): women's main contribution to society is through paid employment, economic independence and autonomy.

The MWA document makes no reference to men - except as perpetrators of 'gender-based violence' - nor is it assumed that having and rearing children is valid and fulfilling. Big families are problematic: 'Children in large families can be disadvantaged at school and have poorer health and social outcomes' (p. 13). Most alarming, perhaps, is that like so many Government-driven ideas, the Action Plan does not arise from any groundswell for change among the majority of New Zealanders. This initiative attempts to politicise the lived experience of New Zealand women. Some women and women's groups seek and demand change - but the vast majority do not. To improve the 'well-being' of women in New Zealand any policy must first recognise that women do not exist independently of men and children, just as neither of these groups exist independently from the other two. Properly understood, all human beings exist in interrelationship.

To view the Maxim submission on the Action Plan visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/submissions/submission_women's_affairs.pdf

You will need the free Acrobat Reader to read this submission. If you do not already have Acrobat Reader you can download it from: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

UK Weddings at 100-year low

The number of people marrying in the UK has fallen to fewer than 250,000 a year, the lowest for more than a century, according to the Daily Telegraph. Of this number, only a third of the ceremonies, about 89,000, were religious, compared with more than 50 percent a decade earlier. There were 249,227 marriages in England and Wales in 2001, the lowest since 1897, according to the Office for National Statistics. With more couples choosing to cohabit, the trend has been downward since 1972, when the figure peaked at 426,241.

The same trends are being felt in New Zealand where there were 19,972 marriages in 2001 (the latest figure available). This was the second lowest number in the last 40 years (there were slightly fewer marriages in 1997). However, the marriage rate in 2001 was the lowest ever, at 14.81 per 1,000 single women of marriageable age. New Zealand's peak year for marrying was 1971, when the marriage rate was three times higher - 45.5 per 1,000 women.

The law used to reflect an understanding of marriage and family as core institutions of Civil Society. Human rights legislation undermines marriage because it promotes a view of persons as individual rights' bearers, rather than relational creatures who live in close interdependence and therefore have responsibilities. Without this level of relationship and commitment there can be no real community. English writer Melanie Phillips has said: 'Without dependency there can be no responsibility. If everyone is self-sufficient, why should he or she need anyone else at all? Without responsibility why should there be such a thing as society?' Marriage still matters, not for nostalgic or sentimental reasons, but because it remains a building block of social and relational order.

A new Maxim publication, The Erosion of Marriage by Angela Burgess, traces the changes in marriage law in New Zealand since 1850, and is a clear and concise statement of the issues. This can be ordered for $20 by emailing mailto:leizl@maxim.org.nz or calling Tel. 09-627 3261.

Common law becoming less common

Common law embodies the old idea of natural justice; the law stands in judgement over the sovereign, it doesn't just transmit his decrees. It also stands in judgement over parliament. Common law is the true origin of liberty and safety in the face of state power. The United Nations (UN), however, can easily undermine the nation-state by substituting decrees from unelected bodies and international law and sovereign-state law are often at odds.

When Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, says: "It is the vital duty of an independent, impartial and well-qualified judiciary, assisted by an independent, well-trained legal profession...to develop the common law in the light of the values and principles enshrined in international human rights law", she is in danger of replacing the concrete nature of common law with the abstractions of the UN. Believers in common law look to a tradition of liberty, public spirit and patriotism, all of which they seek to safeguard. UN advocates look to a future order defined abstractly and disengaged from any historical understanding.

Do we want laws shaped by an organisation which has no need to command loyalty from citizens? The first principle of Civil Society, so well understood by people like John Locke in the 17th Century, is this: "The first act of nationhood," he said, "is a covenant whereby each person relinquishes willingly his natural and private rights to the state which enjoys a monopoly on judicial and executive power. In the absence of such a covenant no civil society exists." In simple terms, ordinary people promise to be responsible and law-abiding citizens in return for justice and protection from enemies.

Maxim Forum 2003 - audio and video tapes

More than 260 people attended Maxim inaugural forum last Saturday to hear an outstanding line-up of local and overseas speakers focused on education and family issues. You can purchase audio or video tapes so that the content can continue to inform and shape debate. Audio tapes are; $8 for each session, $15 for each of all the education or family sessions, or $45 for the whole day. Video tapes are; $25 for the education and family sessions or $40 for both covering the whole day.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Aristotle, The Politics

Law is order, and good law is good order.

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