Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration which takes different forms in different countries. In New Zealand, it serves as a day to consider the progress that women have made, and the progress that is yet to come.
The New Zealand Herald focuses on the biggest concerns facing women, with various facts and stats, and an interview with Rowena Phair, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The issues are… interestingly framed, in the way that Sheryl Sandberg’s analysis of why we have so few women leaders for TED is interestingly framed (video at link). Sandberg is Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, and her advice for women about how to get to top positions is all about how to behave like men. She pays no attention to systemic problems that confront women, and instead offers advice for individual women, not contemplating even for a moment that it might be better to look at the whole way our society structures work and work expectations. See Julie’s post at The Hand Mirror for a discussion of the Sandberg talk: Too few women leaders.
The CEO of Women’s Affairs tells us that the top five issues facing women are:
1. Balancing home life with paid work
2. Staying healthy
3. Getting the right reward for their skills
4. Backing themselves as leaders
5. Feeling safe in relationships.
All good issues to focus on, of course, but look at the advice that is given for each issue.
1. Balancing home life with paid work:
“A big issue for women is managing those responsibilities.”
2. Staying healthy:
“New Zealand women need to make sure they leave space in their busy schedule to take care of themselves.”
3. Getting the right reward for their skills:
“Women are concerned about their financial future, especially in their 20s, and Phair said one way this can be dealt with is by considering all the options available to them in the workforce.
4. Backing themselves as leaders:
“Women are really active in their communities, they’ve got opinions to contribute, but they’ve really got to have the confidence in their convictions…”
5. Feeling safe in relationships:
“It’s very unusual for men to be physically violent without some behaviours that lead up to that so women can keep themselves safe by being very alert … and to get help as quickly as they can.” She said young women are particularly vulnerable to abusive relationships. “Woman really need to keep their eyes open in relationships.”
With the exception of the first, it’s all about what individual women can do to change things. No discussion of systemic factors that might work against women. For example, it sounds like the easiest thing in the world to find a bit of time to stay healthy, but if you are trying to care for small children, and trying to work, then just finding the time to do anything extra can be difficult, even when it’s home based. As for trying to get to the gym, well, you have to sort child care first, so the cost can be considerable. Getting up and going for a run in the mornings might do, until winter darkness closes in. And even then, someone has to be a home to care for the children.
Getting the right reward for their skills? The evidence is that even when women don’t take time out for child care, and do push just as much for higher salaries, they still don’t get paid as much as their male colleagues, because it’s not nice for women to negotiate, so women who do negotiate are punished for it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. More recently, Catalyst found that:
When women did all the things they have been told will help them get ahead—using the same tactics as men—they still advanced less than their male counterparts and had slower pay growth. (Source)
Being a leader in your community – it’s up to you to be confident in yourself. No mention of the constant put-downs that women are subject to, from on-going commentary on their appearance and what they wear (vide Helen Clark and Julia Gillard) to being spoken over, to the dispiriting experience of saying something insightful and helpful, only to have it ignored, until a man two seats further along the table says exactly the same thing, and the point is taken up with enthusiasm.
And the last one – that’s a real doozy. It’s up to the woman to keep herself safe in violent relationships, and the person who perpetrates the violence is not responsible for his, or more rarely her, violence at all.
We are hearing the CEO through the filter of the NZ Herald reporter, so we can’t be sure that Phair herself framed those issues and responses in exactly that way. Even so, it is at least disconcerting to find no attention paid to the systemic issues that women face. Instead, it’s all individualised, and the remedies are all focused on what individual women can do.
On the other hand, the Herald’s reporting is several light years ahead of what Stuff has come up on International Women’s Day. You can find out How to look 10 years younger! In a transparent piece of advertising for a book masquerading as editorial content, women are told that they need to use the right make-up so that they can look younger. The book’s author says that she loves, LOVES! working with older women, aged over 35, because they can look 10 years younger with the right make-up. And of course, it is a woman’s duty to look as young as possible, because older women are simply socially unacceptable.
This 46 year old woman declines.
For a much more inspiring analysis of International Women’s Day, take a look at Scuba Nurse’s post, where she writes about all the good things for women in New Zealand, as well as noting where there is still work to be done: International Women’s Day 2012. And over at Hoyden about Town, Mindy has some Sobering thoughts on the eve of International Women’s Day, reviewing the international statistics on violence against women.