On the 125th anniversary of Women's Suffrage, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman talks about politics and how trolls work to silence women online.

1 You're one of 12 women invited to write a chapter for Te Papa's Women Now: The Legacy of Female Suffrage. What did you write about?

We each got an object from Te Papa's collection to write about; mine was a 1985 pay equity tea towel. The thing that struck me about that was how far we still have to go. People assume that because it's illegal to discriminate pay equity must have been solved but the stats show that's not the case. Take my industry, law; within a year of graduating with the same qualification there's already a gap; within three there's a pronounced gap. That's perpetuated by men being promoted ahead of women for doing the same work for the same length of time.

2 As a former lawyer, did the Russell McVeagh scandal surprise you?


Not at all. Harassment issues are less common for barristers because we don't work in a hierarchy, but I have been approached by women from big law firms who wanted to take a case for stuff like a partner touching their breast in front of everyone at a function. They've never gone through with it because they know from everyone's response that the behaviour is tolerated.

3 What's the solution to gender pay disparity?

New Zealand has heartbreaking rates of sexual and domestic violence. I don't think you can separate that out. We need to change the way we treat women as less than men. Progress starts with us accepting that a problem exists and I don't think that's happened.

4 Your mother was an educated, liberal Iranian woman when the Shah was exiled in 1979. How did that affect her?

After the revolution the university was segregated and women had to sit at the back. That was new to Iranian society. Mum would protest every day by sitting up the front until they asked her to move to highlight that what they were doing was not okay. She also refused to sit religious exams in order to gain employment. Women had to wear strict Islamic dress so in Iran wearing tight clothes and makeup was a form of protest. The battlegrounds in Western society are the exact opposite but both are about control of women's bodies and sexuality.

5 Lizzie Marvelly, in her book That F Word, reveals the abuse she gets from online trolls. I was shocked by the level of sexual violence directed at women online. Has it shocked you too?

Yes it's very sexually explicit at times. You get called a c-word constantly. It's like that part of our anatomy is the worst thing they can think of. That's why Marama Davidson was trying to claim it back. Other women MPs have told me about their experiences; Marama mostly gets trolled when she talks about race; Louisa Wall gets it when she talks about transgender issues. I get it all the time but mostly when I seem to be confident. They hate it when you've achieved something. That's when you've got to be knocked down.

6 Have you ever considered throwing in the towel?

I have to make the most of the fact I've got a voice when so many people don't; they're just trying to go under the radar and laugh at the jokes at the water cooler. It is actually heartbreaking. I don't want to look back and know I had this precious platform but shied away from the hard things. I also get an incredible amount of support from strangers online which really helps.

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo / Supplied
Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo / Supplied

7 When did the trolling start and what do you know about these people?

The trolling began immediately after I announced my candidacy for Parliament. They tend to fall in two camps; one camp is the Dirty Politics commentators who are being paid to take a certain position. Their attacks are followed by a horde of their followers in a coordinated way. Then there are the people who are just really angry about where I'm from.

8 You arrived in New Zealand as a refugee at age 9. Why did you family flee Iran?

For political reasons. To gain refugee status we had to go through a lengthy investigation process. It was determined that we had 'a well-founded fear of persecution based on political grounds'. Dad doesn't talk about it much because of the stigma of being a refugee. I only started talking about it at the height of the Syrian crisis when people asked me to take part in awareness campaigns.

9 Recently trolls have accused you of faking refugee status. Did that surprise you?

It did. What advantage would I get from that? Being a refugee has never helped; it's just obscured everything else. I'd love to focus on my justice portfolio - I studied human rights at Oxford and have a decade's experience as a lawyer - but instead I have to keep proving my right to be here. My family can never go back to Iran. My grandma died late last year. Dad was really close with her; he's suffered the guilt and shame of not having gone back to look after her or attend her funeral. No-one wants that.

10 You got some flak for being on the defence team for a Rwandan war criminal. Why do you believe it's important that such people have a defence?

With these trials, one side isn't saying genocide is good and the other side's saying its bad. The idea is to find out who is guilty of what. Cycles of ethnic violence occur in places like Rwanda because the genocide is blamed on every one of a particular ethnicity. Being able to hold individual leaders to account in a fair and transparent way could help end these cycles. My last UN job was prosecuting members of the Khmer Rouge. The aim is to leave a legacy of the rule of law for the next generation.

11 How did you meet your partner, comedian Guy Williams?

We met at a fundraiser for voluntary worker Michelle Kidd. Guy was hosting. We were in a back room waiting to go in and I had a rant about it being held in the Northern Club, so Guy went and called them out on it which was really awkward; no-one laughed. He tried to talk to me afterwards and I wasn't interested so he stole my name tag and got in touch later. Three weeks after we met we went to India together. I loved that he even asked.

12 What makes your relationship work?

He's got a political science degree so he's actually quite political as well. I like the fact he talks about politics in his stand-up comedy; not many New Zealand comedians do. We're both really verbal people which you don't always find in Kiwi men. We probably say what we think more than most but it works between us.

Golriz speaks at the Going West Writers Festival in Titirangi on Saturday at 11:45am with Lizzie Marvelly, Dame Fiona Kidman, Sandra Coney and Carol Hirschfeld.