Opinion: Holding up half the planet? International Women’s Day

In time for International Women's Day, Professor Edwina Pio, University Director of Diversity, reflects on gender equality.

There is a story of an old woman who wanted to go to a sacred mountain, but on her way, there was a great storm. The woman stopped at a small inn and knocked on the door to request the innkeeper for permission to stay the night. The man on looking at her frail state said, ‘Sure, but it will be impossible for you to reach the mountain.’  The old woman quietly smiled and said, ‘My heart got there first, so the rest of me will follow.’

The UN Sustainable development goals place gender equality at the heart of their success.

New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, led by congregationalist Kate Sheppard. Her religious views led to her political activism. Her famous saying was "all that separates whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome". UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres states, “On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment”.

And the UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: “Achieving equality in the workplace will require an expansion of decent work and employment opportunities, involving governments’ targeted efforts to promote women’s participation in economic life, the support of important collectives like trade unions, and the voices of women themselves in framing solutions to overcome current barriers to women’s participation… It also requires a determined focus on removing the discrimination women face on multiple and intersecting fronts over and above their gender: sexual orientation, disability, older age and race."

UN Women have identified six strategic areas as priority: violence against women, leadership and participation, economic empowerment, millennium development goals, peace and security and national planning and budgeting. Yet in New Zealand, we continue to have various kinds of inequality. Estimates of the gender pay gap indicate that women are being paid 11.8 per cent to 14 per cent less despite the equal pay act passed 45 years ago; one in four women experience intimate partner violence or sexual violence in their lifetime and women occupy 31 per cent of seats in Parliament. New Zealand ranks 9th in the Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum. This is in sharp contrast to the ranking from some of the countries in the mosaic of New Zealand, for example: Malaysia at 106, China at 99, India at 87, United States at 40 and the United Kingdom at 20.

At AUT, women consist of more than half the staff members, and though there are significant successes in representation at senior levels of leadership and related areas of diversity in an endeavour to build staffing that reflects the diversity in Aotearoa, there continue to be challenges. Hence, it is important to be bold for change. AUT is having a diversity forum on 31 March 2017, open to all staff, with the objective to focus on compelling issues and success stories across the University. Other initiatives to enhance a positive and inclusive culture that celebrates diversity are: Women on Campus, Ignite – the AUT women’s leadership programme, and New Zealand Women in Leadership@AUT. The Diversity Strategy and Action Plan of AUT represents the University’s commitment to building the competencies and skills of staff and students through an inclusive work and study environment. In particular, this strategy recognises that diversity in all branches of AUT’s activity will enable staff and students alike to fulfil their potential and that of the University.

Alice Walker, a scholar of colour, poet and activist encourages us to use ‘Thank you’ for it is the best prayer that anyone could say and expresses gratitude, humility and understanding. She also writes that the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they do not have any. Arundhati Roy, winner of the Man Booker Prize for her book The God of Small Things notes that “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

As women, we have the choice to radiate our magnificence and where choices are limited, we still have the choice to build networks for courageous conversations and actions.

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Last updated: 08-Mar-2017 9.17am

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