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Bigger emphasis on tertiary education needed in HRC agenda

Media release: 30 November 2012

Bigger emphasis on tertiary education needed in HRC agenda for gender equality

The agenda for change released by the Human Rights Commission this week in order to regain New Zealand’s leadership in progressing gender equality lacks an emphasis on the importance of tertiary education for women, says Ta’ase Vaoga, National Women’s Rights Officer at the NZ Union of Students’ Associations.

“The fact that none of the recommendations championed across either the 2012 or 2010 Census of Women’s Participation directly address areas of educational opportunity and equality for women is a concern,” says Ta’ase.

“The Census released this week points to the fact that New Zealand has slipped back and lost its way on gender equality and concludes that a lack of ambition for (not by) women generally equates to a lack of progress for women.

“Given the negative state of equality that reflects, it’s hard to be convinced that targeting just the New Zealand Rugby Union and Ministers of Police and of Defence about the state of their executive management or governance – two of the latest eight recommendations – is going to turn that around.

“On the surface the statistics for women’s participation in tertiary education look good but the problems start when high levels of achievement don’t translate into equal gains in the workforce and over the span of a person’s life,” says Ta’ase.

“The 2012 Census highlights real issues for female Bachelor of Science students who are specialising in the natural and physical sciences rather than in engineering, which the Minister for Tertiary Education strongly favours and has recently taken it upon himself to allocate an extra $8 million to for additional places in 2013.

“The Census cites evidence that women are discouraged from participating in engineering because of factors such as a lack of women role models and overt workplace behaviours that reduce opportunities for promotion, recognition and rewards. While this is actively acknowledged by IPENZ, the professional institute for engineering, the fact remains that only 3% of the women graduating as engineers in 2005 now earn more than $120,000, compared with 22% of male 2005 graduates. Where is the recommendation to address this?

“Research last year by the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS) also showed that women with a Bachelor of Science earn on average $30,000 less than men with a Bachelor of Science. There is also a slightly lower percentage of women who are Royal Society Fellows now than in 2010, sitting at below 9%.

“Given the importance of women role models it is a concern that women are still very under-represented at post–doctoral levels and on science faculties. At the time of this Census, for instance, there were no female science heads of department at AUT, Massey or Lincoln. Indeed the percentage of female senior academic staff across all disciplines at all universities is only now reaching 25%.

“The concern I most want to express is that we shouldn’t be satisfied with the numbers of women in tertiary education being above 50% if that isn’t translating into equal pay, and if the levels of academic achievement are being compromised by inequality in the workplace.

“There should be no room for complacency. It’s great that 55% of undergraduate medical students are women for instance, but we also know that long established pattern of vocational speciality in medicine – such as under-representation in surgical areas – are just as entrenched as they ever were”.


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