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Ruth Dyson Address National Council of Women

Speech Notes: Ruth Dyson Address National Council of Women

Rau rangatira maa, tenei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te ra. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutoa katoa.

[Distinguished guests, greetings to you gathered here for this purpose today. Greetings once, twice, three times to you all.]

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak to you. I am delighted that so early in my term as Minister of Women's Affairs, I have had the opportunity to address two key umbrella groups for New Zealand women - the Maori Women's Welfare League conference in Gisborne earlier this week and the National Council of Women today .

As I look around the room, I see lots of familiar faces, and others I hope to get to know over the coming months.

In particular, I want to acknowledge Barbara Glenie, your national president. Barbara, I know that your term is about to end, and I want to take the opportunity to thank you for your contribution, both to NCW and as a strong and dedicated advocate for New Zealand women for many years.

I also want to acknowledge your patron Dame Silvia Cartwright and your international guest Feride Acar, vice-chairperson of the United Nations monitoring committee of CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Yesterday, I attended the conference opening, and heard Dame Silvia's excellent address that focused on 'human rights through women's eyes' from a primarily global perspective. I think her comments provide a useful backdrop to my own address today, which has more of a New Zealand focus.

Yesterday, I also had the pleasure of meeting Feride Ajar. I am sorry that I will not be in Wellington to hear her speak tomorrow, but I look forward to continuing our relationship when I go to New York next year to deliver the government's report to CEDAW.

Speaking of which, I understand that you are launching the NGO report to CEDAW at this conference.
I know that NCW's involvement in its preparation has been a major undertaking, I thank all those involved for your dedication to the task, and I look forward to receiving a copy.

Personal background
Those of you who attended the suffrage day breakfast in Wellington last week will already have heard me say that I owe my political career to women. I initially became involved in the Labour Party because of women's support and encouragement.

My first elected position in the party was onto the Labour Women's Council. At that time, I worked with women like Helen Clark, Liz Tennent, and Margaret Wilson, while Laila Harre was the youth rep.

When you consider that line-up and the support they and current women MPs have given me, it's not surprising that I am still here 20 years later.

I am very proud to have followed in the footsteps of some great women in history too. Elizabeth McCombs, the first female MP, was elected in 1933 in the seat of Lyttelton, while Whetu Tirikatene Sullivan - who represented Southern Maori from 1967 until 1996 - has the distinction of being the first New Zealand woman to give birth to her children while she was an MP.

My own entry into Parliament was through the Lyttelton electorate, and it is an area I continue to represent as the MP for Banks Peninsula. In fact, my electorate has had five women MPs, the greatest number of any electorate, and two Ministers of Women's Affairs, Dame Ann Hercus and myself. It must be the sea air!

The National Council of Women has been lobbying for social justice for more than 100 years, which makes the theme of this conference particularly fitting.

Your website tells me that your priorities for the year are:
¨ accessibility and affordability of education;
¨ mental health;
¨ women in employment, particularly part-time and casual work;
¨ care of older people and their carers;
¨ rights and welfare of children;
¨ women and justice.

These are not only important issues for women, they are human rights issues. Until women's rights are recognised and addressed, there can be no universal human rights. And until universal human rights are addressed, there will be no lasting peace and security, either here or overseas.

Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, made this point when she talked about the response to the September 11 tragedy.

She said, and I quote:
"The world has changed in many ways since 11 September. But what has not changed is that a human rights approach to development is essential in tackling the root causes of terrorism and conflict. If human rights are respected, if basic education, housing and health care are secure, if there is freedom from personal violence and freedom for men and women to earn their living and raise their families, not only are human rights violations prevented, but conflict, terrorism and war can be prevented."

Not only are women's rights and human rights inseparable, but they are intertwined at a national and global level.

This is well-illustrated by the current debate as to whether New Zealand should take part in the Miss World contest in Nigeria, where an Islamic court has sentenced 31-year-old Amina Lawal to be stoned to death for adultery when she finishes breastfeeding her baby. (The baby's father was discharged for lack of evidence.)

Five countries - France, Belgium, Ivory Coast, Norway and Kenya - have already pulled out of the contest, and others are wavering.
There's another aspect to this as well, which shows the complexity of a rights-based approach. If the contest goes ahead, the same people who would have Anwal stoned to death for adultery are threatening violent protests against the 'pageant of nudity' taking place during the holy month of Ramadan - a position that many women in this room might sympathise with.

Indeed, when the Miss World Contest was held in India in 1996, protests by feminist groups turned the city of Bangalore into a city under siege, closing schools and requiring 2000 police to be on hand during the event.

Many people commenting on the beauty contest saga have referred proudly to the fact that New Zealand women were the first to win the right to vote. It's true that we have a special history in human rights, which includes the fact that three Maori women signed our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi.

New Zealand is still out in front, with women occupying most of the top jobs today - Prime Minister, Governor General, Attorney General, Chief Human Rights Commissioner, head of Telecom (our largest company until last year) - and just this week the appointment of the first Pacific woman judge not only in New Zealand, but the world.

The fact is, 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 bureaucracies. In the current Labour-led government, for example, women make up around a third of MPs (17) and roughly the same proportion of ministers (8). 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.

"People have said to me that your first week in the Commons is like your first week at school," she said. "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 - there's plenty of evidence of that in this room - and we must work hard to encourage and support each other in leadership roles.

The success of a few women at the top can also 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 men asserting that 'women's lib' has got completely out of hand.

Journalists who recently 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.

There is no doubt that New Zealand women have made a huge amount of progress. However, we have a long way to go before all women in this country enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

CEDAW - which has established a minimum set of standards for combating discrimination against women - is an invaluable tool for measuring our progress.

Paid parental leave
Right through the 1990s, CEDAW expressed serious concern at our continuing reservation on paid maternity leave.

It's great that we can go back to the committee next year saying 'we've done it'. Since 1 July, when our paid parental leave scheme came into effect, more than 6000 people have applied for leave. That's more than 6000 parents who can now afford to take some time to adjust to the birth or arrival of a new child without having to rush back to work, with all the associated social and health benefits for parents and baby.

The scheme is in its early stages, and we will not be resting on our laurels. As was said in the Speech from the Throne in August, the paid parental leave scheme "will be comprehensively reviewed after one year's operation, with a view to expanding the scheme as resources permit."

Two groups that will be priorities for future coverage are the self-employed, and those with more than one employer in the previous year, who include many women in casual and insecure paid work. We will also look at extending the period of leave beyond the current 12 weeks.

Pay equity
When New Zealand last reported to CEDAW in 1998, the committee also noted that issues like pay equity, employment contracts and women's family responsibilities constituted 'a serious impediment to the full implementation of the convention'.

We're working hard on those issues too.

I am delighted that pay equity is back on the agenda in this country for the first time since the National Government repealed the Employment Equity Act when they came to power in 1990. It's a key issue for women, and a top priority for me as Minister of Women's Affairs.

Higher qualifications have done little to close the income gap between the sexes, and it is obvious that, left to its own devices, the market is not going to address the imbalance.

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 and disabled workers.

Many of the jobs that women traditionally do - in the caring, education and 'people' professions - are paid less than other jobs. And it is interesting that as soon as women start to dominate a particular field, the pay levels go down. We're seeing that happen with the influx of women GPs in the last few years.

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 occupations where women are more likely to work.

But there's more to it than that. 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 has now launched a discussion document called Next Steps to Pay Equity, along with a version for Maori women. You have until the end of November to give us your feedback on how women's skills should be valued in the paid workforce. I hope you'll take that chance - we want and need your input.

Work/life balance
I agree with the CEDAW committee that women's family and whanau responsibilities also need addressing.

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 to have children, 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, but 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.

Bicultural solutions
Underlying all our discussions we must acknowledge that one size does not fit all.

Over 60 percent of Maori women are in the paid workforce, but they also spend more time than any other group helping and caring for people outside their own home - in whanau, hapu and iwi as well as the wider community.

In the past, the government hasn't valued this work enough.

That's why, when the Labour-led government came to power in 1999, we set up a working party to consider the relationship between the government and Maori, iwi, community and voluntary organisations.

Its report - Communities and Government: Potential for Partnership - found deep levels of frustration, mistrust and burnout in the community experience of dealing with governments over the past two decades.

Since then, we have been working hard to rebuild the relationship.

One of the things the working party identified was the different attitudes of Maori and Pakeha to voluntary work. It's a good example of the need for bicultural solutions to bicultural problems, and the importance of ensuring that the views of Maori are taken into account when we are setting the agenda in the first place.

The report said, and I quote:

"The concept of 'voluntary work' is not one that sits comfortably with Maori culture and values. For Maori, there is no strong sense of other within the whanau, hapu and iwi, and no direct equivalent to the term 'volunteering'. It has been suggested that this is likely to be a significant factor in Maori consistently under-reporting their voluntary contribution in census and other research."
A similar issue arises in terms of unpaid work and family responsibilities. Let me give you an example that has come to my attention as Minister for Disability Issues in discussions about whether family members who provide care for people with disabilities should be paid.

It is my experience that most Pakeha favour independent living arrangements outside the home for their adult family members. However, this view is not shared by Maori, for whom caring for whanau is part and parcel of tikanga Maori.

This raises a number of questions, which may have different answers depending on our different cultural perspectives:

¨ What are the legitimate expectations that we, as a society, have in terms of family and whanau caring for family members on an unpaid basis?

¨ Where do family and whanau responsibilities to provide care for family members end and the government's responsibilities begin?

¨ Is it fair that caregivers outside the home are paid, while family caregivers are not?

The Ministry of Social Development is currently looking at these issues, in order to come up with a system that is fair and equitable, and it is essential that your views are fed into this process.

Women with disabilities
Women with disabilities are another group for whom a human rights perspective is vital. As Minister for Disability Issues, I oversaw the development of the New Zealand Disability Strategy in our last term of government. One of its objectives is to ensure the rights of people with disabilities; another is to promote the participation of women with disabilities in order to improve their quality of life.

On Monday, I will be opening the new Office for Disability Issues inside the Ministry of Social Development. The office will help us adopt a cross-sectoral approach to disability issues, so that we can remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in our communities.

New Zealand is also leading work on the feasibility of developing a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities, which would have a similar function to CEDAW.

Other achievements
There are many other initiatives of the Labour-led government that will improve rights for women in this country. We have:

¨ improved access to childcare and out of school care, to address the single biggest barrier to women's participation in the paid workforce ;

¨ produced a 10-year plan to increase the participation of Maori, Pacific, low income and rural children in early childhood education;

¨ acknowledged the essential role of parenting by removing the work test for those on domestic purposes and widow's benefits, so that women are not pressured into returning to the paid workforce at the expense of their children's care and well-being;

¨ addressed economic disparities between partners that arise when a marriage or relationship breaks down;

¨ launched Te Rito: New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy because everyone has the right to be safe and free from violence;

¨ passed new human rights legislation that, among other things, removes the government's exemption from human rights law and stipulates the development of a National Plan of Action for human rights; and

¨ developed strategies in health and positive ageing that will have a positive impact on women.

We're also making progress on indigenous women's rights. In June, for the first time ever, a National Indigenous Women's Gathering took place alongside the New Zealand and Australian Ministers' Conference on the Status of Women. The indigenous women presented the conference with a declaration, laying out the rights of indigenous people.

The ministers agreed to work with indigenous women in the two countries. New Zealand's approach is to progress the Treaty of Waitangi relationship between the Crown and Maori women and their whânau, hapû and iwi.

In spite of all these developments, there's still plenty left to do!

Today, I want to propose that - in addition to your relationship with the Ministry of Women's Affairs - a formal partnership is set up between NCW and myself as Minister of Women's Affairs. This would mean that, as the national umbrella group for non-Maori women, you would provide a direct link to the government - and vice versa - and act as the channel for their voice.

I will be talking to your executive in more detail about this proposal, which I hope you will accept in the spirit in which it is of dialogue and partnership.

I see that Barabara has quoted me in your latest newsletter as saying that the Ministry of Women's Affairs has little profile outside Wellington. I am very keen to broaden the ministry's focus beyond the capital, and to personally meet with women's organisations all over the country. I accept Barbara's kind suggestion that NCW offer to host regional meetings, and I suggest that we build the first meetings around consultation over the Women's Strategy.

Developing that strategy, which will give us the framework to address the diversity of women's lives across the whole of government, is a priority for me. A discussion document will be released shortly, and again I urge you to make sure your voices are heard.

In conclusion, I want to say that this is a great time to be the Minister for Women's Affairs.

In the recent Herald feature on women, EEO Trust executive director Trudi McNaughton said her response to the question of how well New Zealand is advancing the status of women read like a fourth form report card.
"Has made significant advances. Doing well compared with peers but potential still not realised. Will have to work hard not to rest on laurels."

I can assure you that I have no intention of resting on our laurels, and I invite you to work in partnership with me on a clear focused plan of action for 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 undertake to maintain an open and direct dialogue with you on women's issues. I appreciate the support and the challenges that the movement offers. I look forward to meeting those challenges and to sharing the many victories we have ahead of us.
Thank you.

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