Do our political parties understand what is needed to ensure people of all genders are free to be themselves?
It's hard to write and talk about gender issues in this country. It shouldn’t be, because there is much all of us have to gain from exercising our muscles in this area. That is because old ideas of masculinity (and femininity), are boxing us all in. Unhealthy and harmful masculine stereotypes particularly are limiting opportunities and leading to harm against women, transgender and non binary folk, as well as leading to violence between men, and men harming themselves. No matter what our gender we all need the freedom to just be ourselves. Our policy makers and politicians are really important people in helping create the conditions for us to get there, but we have to be able to talk about it more maturely.
This year the Gender Justice Collective was formed to encourage our politicians to talk about and prioritise policies that will improve conditions in society for women, womxn, trans women, wāhine and those who walk between the binary worlds. I really hope that concerned men do this for themselves also. First up, the collective asked people who identified as women and non binary people how things needed to improve for them. The full results are still coming but the initial findings are interesting. The improvements women say they need would make everyone's lives better. For example respondents want politicians to prioritise:
- Paid parental leave for all parents not just one
- Legislation to ensure pay people get the same pay for similar work/work of equal value
- Stronger legislation to combat workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination
- Better access to publicly available information about what domestic violence is, including controlling behaviours, and how to get help
- Changes to the Family Court to better protect women and children who are victim survivors
- Greater enforcement to ensure the protection of our waterways and rivers
So what action are the various political parties planning to take and do they relate to the concerns raised? The Gender Justice Collective asked Labour, National, Greens, ACT, and NZF what they have done in the past to progress womens and non binary people’s opportunities and are planning to do in the future. Labour, National and the Green parties responded. Looking at these responses there are some clear hits, but also a couple of big misses.
Progress to date
All parties can claim some progress on gender issues. The big hitter being the Equal Pay Amendment Bill that all three had a role in progressing. However, the work of Julie Anne Genter (as Minister for Women) and Jan Logie (as Under Secretary for Justice) in the past term (and before) means the stand out performers in this governmental term on gender issues are the Greens. They have consistently pushed hard for comprehensive and effective policy changes to improve women’s and people in the rainbow community’s lives.
So onto what are the parties planning to do if elected? Both Labour and the Greens responses showed a good understanding of the broad range of concerns and issues affecting different women’s lives and opportunity to thrive, for example both mentioned unpaid labour. Of all parties, the Green party responses however showed the deepest understanding of the causes of harm to women and people in rainbow communities, and so perhaps not surprisingly they but also had the most comprehensive range of practical policy responses.
The Labour party responses (attributable to Jacinda Adern) did not follow up with specific policies to match the broad range of concerns they highlighted. National tended to focus on individual level responses. The sorts of things perhaps they feel their voting base want to see most action on - leadership opportunities for women and some policies on women's health, for example cancer treatment, which they suggested would be of benefit to rural women particularly.
Poverty, COVID-19 & Gender
What about COVID-19, jobs, poverty and gender? Given the gender pay gap, the data showing that job loss from the COVID-19 recession has been highest for women, the rate of sole women parent poverty, and women’s clear desire for better work and better pay, it was surprising that only the Greens articulated policies addressing both poverty specifically for women, and issues of related to the development of good jobs for women.
On violence, a key issue for all women in the survey, the good news there is all parties made further commitment to the integrated across government approach to preventing family and sexual violence.
Only the Greens mentioned implementing recommendations from the Mana Wāhine Inquiry- the inquiry into prejudices towards wāhine Māori resulting from breaches to te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Labour discusses leadership on state boards, as did National. But the Greens were the only party to mention changes to government policy making process itself- a source of significant inequity - with the creation of an Office for Rainbow Communities, and development of specific employment and equity standards to be used whenever the government is tendering for services.
None of the parties mentioned their policies on the environment, despite many issues relating to climate and environment, for example transport accessibility and safety, water and river quality, and climate change, having greatest impact, and being of greatest concern to women.
Masculinity and men were AWOL from all parties responses
Traditional ideas about masculinity have contributed to men’s high rates of suicide, depression and anxiety as well as violence against women, transwomen, and non binary folk. Breaking free of traditional masculine stereotypes, and the behaviours associated with them, for example coercive and controlling behaviour, will improve the health and wellbeing of all people. No party mentions policies specifically designed to overcome harmful masculine stereotypes (e.g. parental leave for all parents, incentives for men into female dominated industries, or earlier interventions in schools). This is a fundamental upstream solution to many of the limitations on all people's freedoms, not just womens. Government has enormous power to plan for and resource this work. Time to get to it.
- Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw
Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw is a New Zealand researcher and communicator, and good science advocate. Her focus is contributing to conversations about policy that works to deliver wellbeing to all. Jess’s work is predicated on three things: making values transparent, delivering equity, and understanding best evidence. Her work to date spans the social, economic and political spectrum. Jess was awarded a PhD in Health Psychology from Victoria University in 2004 and has since worked in various roles in the public and private sector applying science and evidence to public policy.
In recent years, Jess has returned to her psychology roots, focussing on why narrative communications that "go with the grain of cognition" better connect people with what is true and what to do in public policy. In 2017 Jess published Pennies from Heaven, a book that investigates the most effective policy actions for moving families and children out of poverty. She is co-director of think-and-do tank The Workshop, and a senior research associate at the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland.
We will discuss what the parties are doing to advance Gender Equity in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Thursday 1 October, 8pm: Labour
Thursday 8 October, 8pm: Greens
Act and NZF didn't respond to our request. National withdrew their agreement to be involved.
The Gender Justice Collective Te Roopu Manatika-ā-Ira is an independent, non-profit network drawn from all walks of life. We want Aotearoa New Zealand to lead the world in gender equity. But first, we need to know how committed to gender equity our political parties are.
It's fast paced, focused and fun.
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