Catriona McLennan: Women fed up with endless wait

NZ should follow Rwanda's lead and introduce quotas to address our shocking gender inequality

For thousands of years, women have been shut out of top positions by law, custom and physical force. Photo / Getty Images
For thousands of years, women have been shut out of top positions by law, custom and physical force. Photo / Getty Images

For decades, we've been told that if we worked hard and were patient, eventually the gender pay gap would close, we would have equal representation in Parliament, we'd be appointed to company boards and we'd become judges and partners in law firms.

But, actually, none of this is happening. Progress has generally stalled and, in some instances, the statistics are getting worse. The "do nothing" approach has not worked in achieving real equality for women.

Yes, New Zealand has had two female prime ministers - but the other 36 leaders of the nation have been male, meaning that women prime ministers make up 5.2 per cent of the total figure. Only 41 of New Zealand's current 121 MPs are female.

The pay gap between male and female wages stubbornly persists, decade in and decade out. Sometimes it narrows slightly but then it widens again. The latest statistics had the gap between male and female pay at 9.3 per cent.

In October 2012, just 11 per cent of listed company board members were women.

In the legal profession, 80 per cent of Court of Appeal judges, 79 per cent of High Court and 69 per cent of District Court judges are male. The numbers of female principals in law firms is 23.7 per cent, despite the fact that women, for a number of years, have comprised the majority of law graduates and now make up 61 per cent of those admitted to the Bar.

The statistics for non-Pakeha woman are even more shocking. Not only have 36 of our 38 prime ministers been male, but New Zealand has had no prime minister of Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Chinese, Indian or other ethnicity.

The response from commentators and the media when it was revealed that the Labour Party was considering a quota to increase the number of female MPs was twofold. First, people said that 41 per cent of the Labour caucus being female was "pretty good". Second, it was argued that it would be "unfair" to men if they could not stand in certain electorates.

Why do we never hear how unfair it is that women have been shut out of politics, professions, boards and other areas for thousands of years ?

And why are men never expected to be satisfied with less than full equality ? Imagine what the reaction would be if all of the above statistics were reversed and men were marginalised in our society.

"Trickle up" has not worked in achieving equality for women. That is the reason that many other nations have taken concrete steps to achieve real progress in gender equality. New Zealand is now lagging woefully behind.

As at June 2008, women occupied only 19 per cent of parliamentary seats internationally and only 13 women were heads of state in 189 governments. In some countries, women still do not even have the right to vote. However, more than 100 countries have acted to introduce quotas or other mechanisms to increase the numbers of women politicians.

Spain in 2007 passed the Equality Law, which requires political parties to include 40 to 60 per cent of each gender among electoral candidates. Finland in 1995 introduced a constitutional amendment providing that the governing bodies of all indirectly elected public bodies must comprise at least 40 per cent female representation.

French law was changed in 2000 to require political parties to present equal numbers of men and women as candidates in most elections.

In India, a 1993 constitutional amendment mandated that a randomly selected third of leadership positions at every level of local government should be reserved for women. Researchers studying the impact of the provision found that the probability of a woman winning office conditional on the constituency being reserved for women in the previous election was five times higher than in non-reserved areas. Further, even when the requirements were withdrawn, women retained their leadership positions.

Brazil introduced a gender quota for city council positions in 1996 and extended it to candidates for all political legislative positions by 1998.

However, it is Rwanda which has shown what can really be done. After the genocide of 1994, concrete steps were taken to increase female participation in politics and post-conflict reconstruction. The 2003 Rwandan Constitution mandated that 30 per cent of seats be reserved for women in the legislature. As a result the number of women in the legislature rose from 18 per cent in 1994 to 56 per cent in 2008, making Rwanda the first country in the world to have a majority of women in its legislature.

Contrast that with the United States, which has no political gender quotas. In 2008, only 16 per cent of Congress members were women and women held only five governorships.

Women have for thousands of years been shut out of leadership positions by law, custom and often by physical force. Quotas have been shown to work. It's time New Zealand seriously addressed these issues and acted to include women and non-Pakeha people fully in government, business and other sectors.

Labour leader David Shearer should not have backed off the idea of quotas when publicly challenged. Instead, he should have asked Prime Minister John Key why he was doing absolutely nothing to address these issues.

Politicians and commentators in New Zealand always seem preoccupied about upsetting male voters. They should instead be mindful of angry and disenfranchised women - we've had enough of being excluded.

Catriona MacLennan is an Auckland lawyer.

- NZ Herald

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