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Study of working mums wins research award

Study of working mums wins research award

A researcher, who sees a gap between policy and practice in the Government’s position on women’s roles, today (Tuesday 5 December) won an award as most promising new researcher at an Early Childhood Research Conference at Whitireia Community Polytechnic.

The award was given by the Child Forum Research Network to Massey University Masters of Psychology student Ella Kahu for her study of government policy and the decisions women make about their roles as mother and worker.

She analysed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Action Plan for New Zealand Women and the views of first-time mothers and found that while freedom to choose is part of the policy’s vision for women, in practice paid work is privileged over caring roles.

Ella, 43, who is a mother of two teenagers, says government policy is driven by economics a lot more than the needs of women, resulting on pressure on women to work. “We fought for the opportunity to do anything and we ended up having to do everything.”

For her Masters project, runner-up My Wilkstedt tackled the controversial subject of the physical punishment of children and interviewed 100 parents in New Zealand and Sweden. Sweden outlawed the physical discipline of children in 1979.

My, 28, who came from Sweden to study in New Zealand, found that parents who had realistic expectations of their child’s abilities were more likely to use positive disciplining methods. Parents who used physical discipline rarely felt good about it, and most described it as a last resort. She also surveyed parents on general acceptance of violence.

“There was a huge difference in attitudes to violence between the two countries,” she says, with the New Zealanders’ acceptance scores being more than three times higher.

Conference convenor Dr Sarah Farquhar says more award nominations were received than in the previous four years the Award has been running. “The standard of work was high, making judging difficult. Ella Kahu and My Wilkstedt hold tremendous promise as researchers who could make a strong contribution to early childhood research.”

The pair plan to pursue their research. Ella has enrolled in a PhD and My, who is working as a research and policy analyst for the Families Commission, intends to carry out research in developing countries. Ella is presenting her research to delegates today.


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