Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

NZ's new champion for equality

Latayvia Tualasea Tautai is challenging New Zealanders to examine their own prejudices about male and female roles. Photo / Simon Collins
Latayvia Tualasea Tautai is challenging New Zealanders to examine their own prejudices about male and female roles. Photo / Simon Collins

Move over Helen Clark - New Zealand has a new champion of gender equality, and she is still only 18.

Latayvia Tualasea Tautai, a final-year student at St Dominic's College in Henderson, challenged civic leaders at a Suffrage Day event in Auckland today to examine their own prejudices about the roles that females and males were expected to fill.

"In order to inch closer to equality, we need first to evaluate the self. To unlearn the stereotypes ingrained in our society and to judge others based solely on who they are as a person," she said.

Latayvia, who won a speech competition run by the National Council of Women, was wildly applauded after her speech at the Suffrage Memorial steps that were built in front of the Auckland Art Gallery for the 1993 centenary of women winning the vote.

After 123 years, women still make up only 33 per cent of city councillors elected at the last local body elections in 2013, 32 per cent of Parliament, 22 per cent of mayors and council chairs, 15 per cent of directors of the top 100 listed companies - and not one of the chief executives of our largest 50 listed companies.

The average woman earned $27.37 an hour in June, 13 per cent lower than the average man.

"We as women have been pushed into a room with this glass ceiling," Latayvia said.

"We can see male privilege; it is right in front or should I say above us - yet when we scream at the injustice and beat at the ceiling with all our might, it remains unscathed."

Even though young women are now doing better than young men educationally, Latayvia said young men still had a sense of superiority.

"I've been to debating competitions where you see young men my age and you feel a bit intimidated by the boys," she said.

"I have been to student leader events that are co-ed and you can hear the sense of judgment if you speak out, you can see where there are differences and how one gender is compared to the other, and it's not really talked about.

"You see it when people encourage you to go for certain jobs, and when they are surprised at how you speak and how confidently you speak. Would they be surprised if I was a boy speaking confidently?"

She told the crowd that women were still "objectified" in the media and were blamed if men assaulted them.

"A friend of mine told me about one time after her sports training a boy approached her and tried to touch her," she said.

"She was saying, 'I shouldn't have been wearing short shorts, I should have got picked up from school.'

"I told her, 'No, you were at a sports training, you should be able to wear what you like, what you feel comfortable in.'"

She called for a world where males and females were not constrained by traditional roles.

"I hope to live in a world where a man can stay home and look after his own children without being emasculated. A world where men are not told to 'man up,'" she said.

""Because there are no emotional prerequisites for being a man. Because gender is not something you earn. And equality is the right of all."

Latayvia Tualasea Tautai with Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse (left) and National Council of Women Auckland president Carol Beaumont (right) at Auckland's Suffrage Memorial. Photo / Simon Collins
Latayvia Tualasea Tautai with Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse (left) and National Council of Women Auckland president Carol Beaumont (right) at Auckland's Suffrage Memorial. Photo / Simon Collins

Glass ceiling

By Latayvia Tualasea Tautai

They want us to feel constrained, confined and downright uncomfortable. We as women have been pushed into a room with this glass ceiling. We can see male privilege; it is right in front or should I say above us - yet when we scream at the injustice and beat at the ceiling with all our might, it remains unscathed.

We can feel their superiority, we are aware of the difference in wages; we are outraged at our objectification in the media.

We continue to kick and scream, attempting to obliterate the glass ceiling but it is welded together with years of victim blaming, centuries of patriarchy and a lifetime of habit.

But what if we - both men and women - united on a scale so large that it could not be ignored, could we smash the ceiling to smithereens? What would New Zealand look like?

With the eyes of a self-proclaimed idealist I see a world of genuine equality. One that recognises that gender equality is not a female right, it is a human right. Both men and women are disadvantaged by the status quo.

Imagine a world where both young boys and girls are taught that voicing our opinions with passion does not mean that you are bossy instead, we are showing grit and leadership potential.

A world where half of each government is comprised of women opposed to our current average of only 22 per cent. Taught that you can be a rugby player, CEO or housewife and still be considered a strong woman.

Where a close friend of mine does not break down whilst telling me about one late night walking home after touch training, blaming herself because 'she was wearing short shorts' and should have gotten picked up straight from school.

Where I do not have to convince her that despite what society tells her she is not to blame.

We, especially those who are supposed to be carrying out justice, still need to learn that the question 'but what were you wearing?' is not acceptable to even mutter.

But to imagine is easy, because we are fully aware of the injustices that take place. Here we are looking through the glass, from our different perspectives daily.

But, how? How could we reach a state of equality?

In order to inch closer to equality we need to first evaluate the self. To unlearn the stereotypes ingrained in our society and to judge others based solely on who they are as a person.

To open ourselves up to change may be uncomfortable, to defy the habits of the past is going to take time. But if we each commit to the equality that begins within the mind - we could take so many steps, together.

We also need to think about the messages we are sending, both verbally and via social media.

Language matters. Jokes that belittle others based on gender, race or non-conformity are never okay. And 'I was just kidding' is just cover up for being a product of an unequal society.

Whenever the possibility of targeted programmes are brought to attention, so is the 'what about boys memo?' But that only ignores the issue at hand. With women holding only 4.6 per cent of Fortune 500 CEO positions. In our communities, by empowering women by giving more leadership opportunities we can encourage the unlearning of this feeling of inferiority.

We need to cultivate female leadership. As companies that have women in leadership are shown to have been outperforming their competition by a third. We need more programmes that encourage genuine integration of women into fields that are predominately 'out of reach'; we will not only diversify but improve our economy and tolerance.

I hope to live in a world of equality, achieved by changing our thought habits, in turn stigma, language and communities we will be able to create a weapon. Where, both men and women can unite to finally smash the glass ceiling.

- NZ Herald

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