Friday, September 19, 2008

Suffrage Day

Today, September 19th, is Suffrage Day. 115 years ago today, on September 19 1893, New Zealand women won the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. This is well worth celebrating - even making into a public holiday - but we should also remember that despite full electoral participation, we still have a long way to go. Stuff's poll showing that a third of women believe they do not yet have full equality with men may seem ridiculous to some in the sewer, but the belief is well supported by evidence. earlier this year, the Human Rights Commission released its second Census of Women's Participation [PDF], tracking the role of women in the private sector, public sector, government and academia. It painted a dismal picture. Among its findings:

  • Only 33% of MPs and 29% of local government members are women;
  • Less than 9% of company directors are women. Only 6 companies out of the NZSX's top 100 have equal representation on their boards of directors (and that's giving them the benefit of the doubt on rounding errors); 60% of those companies have no women at all. The statistics are even worse for NZAX and NZDX companies. Our corporate sector is a tightly-held old-boys club.
  • Women are more strongly represented in the state sector, comprising 34% of the directors of crown-owned companies, and 42% of state-sector boards. But this still isn't equality.
  • Less than 15% of major newspaper editors are women, and women are paid significantly less than men in the public relations industry.
  • Women form only 29% of the police force, though this statistic is inflated by the preponderance of women in non-sworn positions. 19% of sworn constables are women, and the proportion declines precipitously with rank. Our police, too, are a boy's club - which is why they're so shit at protecting women’s rights.
  • Women hold less than 20% of senior academic positions in our universities. At Lincoln, our most sexist university, its 10%. Because of this narrowing of the pool, only 7% of Royal Society Fellows are women.
If this is equality, then the sewer doesn't know the meaning of the word.

And bringing this back to Suffrage Day, all of this can be changed with appropriate government policy. But if we want to see it changed, then all of us - women and men - need to vote for it.