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Dalziel - YWCA Wellington, Hutt Valley Centenary

Hon Lianne Dalziel
Minister of Commerce, Minister for Small Business,
Minister of Women’s Affairs, MP for Christchurch East

6 November 2006 Speech Notes
Embargoed until 6pm Monday 6 November 2006

YWCA: Wellington and Hutt Valley Centenary

Women's lives 100 years ago; women's lives today – let's celebrate positive changes for us all

Te Puni Kokiri House
6.15 pm

Rau rangatira mā, tēnei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te rā – mana wahine. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā rā tātou katoa.

Thank you for asking me to share this celebration with you this evening and can I begin by acknowledging past and present members of the Wellington & Hutt Valley YWCA, especially board members and other volunteers and thank them all for their contribution to this important organisation over many years.

I guess it would be stating the obvious to say that the world has changed a lot since the local YWCA opened its doors in 1906. However I have enjoyed reading a bit about the "herstory" of the YWCA, starting from its purpose (in today's terms this would be the mission statement):

"To unite for prayer and work all those who desire to promote the spiritual, moral, social and intellectual welfare of young women wherever they may be found, and to train its members 'by love to serve one another'…"

Starting with programmes like dressmaking, elocution, millinery, first aid, gardening and 'hygiene for girls', the YWCA showed that it was interested in the whole lives of the young women it was to serve.

Michael Cullen would have approved of what might have been an early version of KiwiSaver, namely the Savings Club which was established in 1914 – it was well ahead of its time, encouraging as it did, low-paid women to set aside a portion of their weekly pay. The Merrymakers Club and the Pollyanna Club established in 1915 & 1917 respectively might have been the forerunners of the work-life balance debate we have today.

After World War II, the groups that were established had a practical focus arising out of the war with New Zealand women moving to America with their servicemen husbands (leading to the establishment of the Eagle Club) and with migrants and refugees coming to New Zealand in significant numbers (leading to the establishment of the Cosmopolitan Club). At the same time the Business and Professional Women's Round Table Club was established and ran meetings and lectures on political issues like equal pay.

Women of my generation all remember the YWCA for its promotion of financial independence, successful careers and higher education for women, support for mothers alone and the self-defence courses for women.

I of course like to track the history of women's organisations in terms of the political environment. In 1906 New Zealand women had already had the right to vote for 13 years, but they were still fighting for other basic rights, including the right to stand as candidates in national elections – that first occurred in the 1918 election.

In 1933 the first woman was elected to Parliament, (Elizabeth McCombs), and in 1947 we had our first woman Cabinet Minister in Mabel Howard, who was a real supporter of the YWCA in Christchurch.

There was Equal Pay legislation first in the public sector and then the private sector in 1972. Human Rights legislation was introduced in 1977 providing for no discrimination in the provision of goods and services.
Groundbreaking employment equity legislation came in 1990, but sadly did not survive the change in government.
So by the time I was elected to Parliament in 1990 virtually all the legislative barriers to women having equal status to men had been dismantled, but as we all know, it is not just the law that creates barriers.

We have had equal pay legislation for more than 30 years, yet over the past decade women’s median hourly earnings have reached no more than 88 percent of men’s. What this tells us is that while it is necessary to have laws that are fair, ultimately what has to change are the attitudes that allow structural inequality to exist.

The YWCA has a strong record in working to change attitudes and to encourage young women to make the most of their lives and to realise your newly-stated vision of ‘young women leading change’. I say newly-stated, because that has really been the underlying strength of the YWCA over the past 100 years. There is much to celebrate in the commitment to meeting the changing needs of young women, but even in those early days the focus on self-sufficiency and empowerment was there.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, for which I am the responsible Minister, has also been increasingly focusing its efforts on issues where the change needed to bring real advances in opportunities for women are ones of attitude and behaviour.

One area they have been looking at recently, which is very relevant to young women, is the issue of occupational segregation, or why some jobs are dominated by men or women, and what that means for people working in those jobs. Some of you will be aware of the work produced by the Human Rights Commission, Give Girls a Go, which we launched at Parliament recently. It tells the stories of young women taking up non-traditional trades and the impact that choice has had on their lives. The highly positive responses by their employers are included in the publication as well.
Knowing that women make up only 8 per cent of the Modern Apprenticeship programme, we want to know more about why this is and what might encourage young women to expand their field of vision when it comes to career choices.

I have a theory that if women knew more about the potential earnings and career opportunities in some of these trades more traditionally occupied by men, their choices might be different. We quickly realised however that there was a dearth of information about what young people earn in different trades and occupations. So the Ministry commissioned a piece of research on ‘Wages & Training Costs in Male- and Female-dominated Trade-related Occupations’ and I thought this was a good opportunity to release the findings, because I think they are relevant to any young woman making decisions about her career, something that has always been a priority for the YWCA.

The research found that after five years’ experience, wages in traditionally male-dominated trade-related occupations are just over 45 per cent higher on average than in traditionally female-dominated occupations. Median hourly wage rates for qualified and experienced workers are $24.00 for the male-dominated occupations reviewed, and only $16.50 for the female-dominated ones. This was even with the female-dominated occupations, hairdressing & travel agents, being at the top of the range, due to the impact of commissions.

In addition, training costs tended to be largely paid for by employers rather than the employees in the male-dominated occupations that were studied – but this is usually not the case for female-dominated occupations. What I found particularly interesting, and why the stark differences between the two may not be so evident at the point of leaving school, is that the starting wages are generally the same in male- and female-dominated trade-related occupations – which means that the differences occur only after some years of work.

While many women have now moved into professional occupations that were previously male-dominated – including my own profession of law – this has not been the case in trade-related occupations.

As a result, gender-based occupational segregation continues to be one of the major contributing factors in the gender pay gap. It's not the only factor by any means, but according to research on pay inequality it accounts for between 20 and 40 per cent of the difference between men and women’s wages.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is going to do some further work on these issues to assess whether, and how, having such information affects the decisions young people make about what types of work to enter; and to assess whether gender-based occupational segregation has wider economic impacts, such as impacts on productivity levels and the responsiveness of the labour market to skill shortages.

Intuitively the answer to both questions should be ‘yes’, but policy should always be based on sound evidence. In my experience young people want information about potential income when they make decisions about education and employment, and they are certainly smart enough to use that information when they have it.

Organisations like the YWCA have always known how important it is for young women to have good decision-making skills, as well as access to good information so they can make informed choices about their future. I therefore hope you don't mind me using your celebration to release this information, but it seemed to me to be entirely in keeping with your philosophy and appropriate in the context of tonight's occasion.

So on that note, can I thank the YWCA for the work you have done for young women in Wellington and the Hutt Valley over the last 100 years. You have a century worth of experience in your centenary theme of ‘realising young women’, which is a significant statement encapsulating your past, your present and your future. As a community organisation the YWCA has always been committed to working with young women from a social justice perspective and to being a champion for young women and their issues. It is a tradition you can all be proud of and a firm foundation for the next 100 years.


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