Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places on Earth to be a woman. But you will not find the Minister of Women's Affairs in that country shrugging off the unseemly behaviour of male colleagues. They are too busy risking their lives and that of their families to overthrow centuries of oppression and violence towards the gender.
A new minister of women's affairs has just been announced in Kabul. Not a huge amount is known about Dilbar Nazari, who now carries a huge and often deadly responsibility, but she inherits her role from a woman called Massouda Jalal, a women's rights activist and paediatrician who has been oppressed, beaten and tortured by the Taliban for her tireless efforts on behalf of Afghan women.
Even in countries where women don't have to risk life and limb to get a fair shake, the ministers charged with protecting their equal status in society are vocal, and effective.
For example, Asa Regner is the Minister for Gender Equality in Sweden, often described as the most equal country on Earth. That hasn't led to any complacency on the part of Ms Regner, though; she has been a vocal champion of abortion rights, pay parity, and feminism in general (saying she is part of a "feminist government" and that feminism is not a feeling but must be "measurable and concrete").
By contrast, we have a Minister for Women, Louise Upston, who's contribution to the cause of women this week was to tell them that if they were harassed, they should speak up for themselves. In the same breath, she said through pursed lips that the Prime Minister had apologised for his frankly infantile behaviour towards a young waitress at a Parnell cafe and "that was the end of the matter". Oh, jolly good then.
I looked back through the archives to see whether Ms Upston had ever, in fact, said or done anything actually worthwhile for the women of New Zealand. She declined to call herself a feminist and defended the ancient art of female beauty pageants at the beginning of her post, so it wasn't a promising start. A flick through the archives revealed very little else of substance, except a couple of platitudes about how women had a ways to go to achieve "equality" (Louise: people who believe in, and work towards, equality of the sexes are actually known as "feminists").
Many releases on the various inequalities that warrant vague and indefinable action are issued by Ms Upston's crew. Her release on International Women's Day, March 7, bore all the hallmarks of her unique brand of meaningless waffle.
In it, the minister claimed "opportunities for New Zealand women to be empowered to achieve their potential are on the rise." It's a vague premise. As noted, women are participating more in the workforce and have more flexible arrangements, perhaps, but are a lot of them working part-time on zero hours contracts? Because that's not progress.
Other missives from the minister included one where the "importance of whanau and community" was noted. No kidding. In another, a speech to the UN, she talked about the violence and terror women suffer in other parts of the world because of ongoing conflict.
That was true enough, so I searched for the minister's thoughts on countries like New Zealand upping their refugee quota to take in the terrorised and beaten women and children from such war-torn areas. I searched in vain.
As a woman, you don't expect much from a National Government, but you do expect that even as an exercise in window-dressing, which it clearly is, you might hear the original thought or suggestion that will rock the boat a little bit.
Someone who assertively pushes for actual solutions to reducing the 90,000 domestic violence call-outs received each year. Someone who is actively working to get aged-care workers - an overwhelmingly female workforce - better rates of pay. Or is right behind extending paid parental leave, say.
Most of all, I'd like a Minister for Women who is better than the Australian Minister for "women's issues", Tony Abbott. Because if you can't be better than that, better no Minister for Women at all - which would almost be preferable to the current state of affairs.
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