By Michelle Howie, Establishment Group Chair
I must admit, I haven’t always been aware of International Women’s Day and its annual celebrations, themes and discourse on the eighth of March each year. My own mother recalls being on holiday on 8 March in Poland, of all places, and being given a single red rose in a restaurant. Why are all the female diners being given roses, she asked, and was told “in recognition of International Women’s Day”. Innocently she replied, “Oh, how lovely! I don’t think we have that in England…”.
Yes mum, International Women’s Day is celebrated in England, and here in New Zealand too. How did my mother not know about this landmark date, an annual calendar event with over a century of history, spanning the globe?
Perhaps the bigger question is ‘how meaningful is IWD for my mum… how meaningful is it for you?’. If you’re not sure where to start, this year’s IWD theme is an ideal springboard for formulating your answer - what does ‘#balanceforbetter’ mean to you?
Here are four takes on ‘balance’ that feel timely and meaningful to us at the Waikato Women’s Fund, as we approach International Women’s Day.
You do not need to be an accountant or book-keeper to get the gist of the gender pay gap. It’s a global issue and far from resolved in New Zealand. In 2018, Statistics NZ reported a gap of 9.2% between median hourly earnings for men and women here. It is also acknowledged the gap is far wider for Maaori (24%) and Pasifika (31%) female workers, the resolution of which takes us into intersectional territory and demands the recognition of racism within gender issues.
Beyond immediate remuneration concerns, only six countries in the world have legislated for equal employment conditions, according to the World Bank. Interim WB President Kristalina Georgieva calculates the global economy could be enriched by about US$160tn if women earned as much as men. Yes, that’s trillions of dollars. She says “it is clear that giving space to women leads to richer societies”.
Models for equality are not hard to find, but it seems enacting and implementing them is rarely being achieved ‘on the ground’. For example, even though the exploration of flexible working arrangements is legislated in NZ employment law, it is clear many employers struggle to know how they can be brought to life.
A large majority, 70%, of those in part-time jobs are women, reflecting who is usually required to maintain a balancing act between caring for others and a paid role. Whilst this might, to some eyes, suggest many women are finding a ‘work-life balance’, it is not that simple. In an equal society, we would expect to see a growing number of men taking on part-time work to balance their many roles, yet this is not yet the case. Similarly, many women are driven to leave full-time roles after starting a family when their employer does not agree that a part-time role or role-share arrangement can be successful. The over-representation of women in small business and entrepreneurship, often after exiting from middle or senior management, does not translate to huge earnings on the balance sheet. As Catherine Fox describes in her book ‘Stop Fixing Women’, 2016 data discovered that over one million women are trading in Australia, but many are economically disadvantaged, with more than half unable to pay themselves a wage.
And what about models for balance in the home? Gender Equal NZ’s 2017 survey on gender attitudes discovered both heartening and worrisome beliefs about gender. Perceptions about home-based chores appear to be changing slowly, with many Kiwis continuing to see a distinction between ‘women’s work’ and ‘men’s work’ around the home.
[image shows a woman cleaning a toilet and the caption reads 16% think women should be mainly responsible for cleaning the bathroom in families with children. Source ]
The way we interpret the world and its many concepts is often through stories and speech. Tales are the vehicle through which we consume language and meaning, often in unconscious ways. We should pay attention to stories and the story-teller.
Whose stories do we hear in the media? Perhaps you have seen the infographic doing the rounds on social media about how much female characters get to speak in some of our favourite movies. It is quite confronting to realise our media environment is so dominated by male voices, male directors, male journalists and therefore, the male narrative.
[Infographic compares proportions of words spoken by male and female characters in movies that won Best Picture Awards between 1991 and 2016. Source]
Rebecca Solnit has written powerfully about the ‘living death’ it is to feel unheard, silenced and invisible. In this excerpt from her book ‘The Mother of All Questions’ she says:
“Violence against women is often against our voices and our stories. It is a refusal of our voices, and of what a voice means: the right to self-determination, to participation, to consent or dissent; to live and participate, to interpret and narrate”.
What about the stories we hear about charitable giving? Is this gendered too? When you picture a philanthropist, who do you see? It is commonly the male philanthropists photographed on stage handing over the giant cheque to a worthy group. Where are the women? Well, they are most certainly there and the true balance behind charitable giving is a key force shaping women’s funds around the world. Research is now telling us that women give in distinct ways, more often than men, and, over their lifetime, their gifts will add up to more than men’s. This is true for women at all levels, not just high-net-worth individuals.
A women’s fund model takes the unique characteristics of women’s giving and connects it directly with groups and organisations that can impact outcomes for women and girls. It’s powerful and it’s appealing to women donors – because it works and it closes the gender gap in philanthropy that other funders are admitting they do not address.
So now to the facts. Data has a funny way of waving the smelling salts under your nose – all the more compelling when it makes the lack of balance clear. Let’s take violence against women as an example. In NZ a third of women and girls will suffer from domestic violence, 24% will be sexually assaulted, and disabled women are almost twice as likely to be victims of violence or abuse compared to other women.
Living a life free from violence and abuse is a priority for all women around the world, and in our country too. NZ’s high rate of reported domestic violence is a statistic we really must strive to reduce, for a balanced society that works for the betterment of all.
At our Waikato Women’s Fund launch last July, we signalled our understanding of this issue with an inaugural grant to one of the region’s longest-serving organisations supporting women, Waikato Women's Refuge-Te Whakaruruhau. CE Roni Albert joined us at our November event to share some stories about her work and to convey the scale of the challenges she faces weekly. It made for sobering listening.
So, as you consider what #balanceforbetter means to you, we remind you the Waikato Women’s Fund is here with a clear purpose - so women and girls, and their communities, are achieving their aspirations.
Balance does not have to be a 50:50 split of current entitlements. The quest for balance can also uncover new and creative solutions that meet our aspirations – and who knows, they might just be good for everyone.
To join and be a part of the Waikato Women’s Fund community, we welcome your donation however big or small. Click here to donate.