International Women’s Day: we need more women to stand for local councils


The parade for International Women’s Day in Te Marae o Hine.

March the 8th is International Women’s Day. This year, there was a big celebration in Te Marae o Hine, the Square in Palmerston North, with a parade and puppets and singing and dancing. And speakers. I was honoured to be invited to give a speech.

I spoke from notes rather than from a fully-written out speech, so here is a reconstruction of what I said.


Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa!

Thank you for the great honour of asking me to speak today.

I’ve got three things to talk about. First, I’m going to celebrate some local women. Then, because I’m an academic, I’m going to tell you about some interesting research about women. And last, I’m going to ask you to do something.

Here are the local women I want to celebrate. From Manawatu District Council, the fabulous mayor, Margaret Kouvelis. She’s someone I really admire. And from her council, three more women who are district councillors, Barbara Cameron, Jo Heslop, and Alison Short. There’s a council of eleven people in Manawatu District, so that’s four women out of eleven councillors.

Here in Palmerston North, five great women who are on council: Aleisha Rutherford, Annette Nixon, Leonie Hapeta, Susan Baty, and of course, Rachel Bowen. (Rachel was the speaker immediately before me.) There’s sixteen people on council in Palmerston North, including the mayor, so that’s five women out of sixteen.

Our local District Health Board is pretty good. There are seven elected positions, and four of them are held by women: Diane Anderson, Ann Chapman, Karen Naylor, and Barbara Robson.


Me speaking at the 2016 International Women’s Day celebrations

Then there’s Horizon’s Regional Council. There are twelve councillors on the regional council. The women on Horizons Regional Council are Colleen Sheldon and Rachel Keedwell and …

And that’s it. Just two women on a council of twelve. If ever there was a council stuffed full of men, Horizons Regional Council is it.

So all up, there are about 46 elected positions on local local bodies, and about one third of them are held by women.

Ladies, sisters, we are under-represented. And we need to do something about it.

There are a couple of research findings that are interesting here.

When it comes to women being elected onto local councils, it turns out that numbers matter. Women are elected in the proportion in which they stand. So if a third of the candidates are women, then a third of the people who are elected will be women.

So we need to get more women to stand.

But here’s the other research finding. You know the old story about men seeing that they can do half the tasks needed for a job, and deciding that they’re a perfect fit, and women seeing one task that they can’t do, so they don’t apply at all? It turns out that for many women, getting them past that “I can’t do that” barrier is just a matter of someone shoulder tapping them. Someone saying to them, “Hey. You would be good at this.”

We need to start doing some shoulder tapping.

Here’s the things you can do to get more women onto local councils.

First up, think about standing yourself. We’re all active and engaged women, and we’d be good! So consider yourselves shoulder tapped.

If standing for council is not the right thing for you, how about shoulder tapping some other women you know. Maybe some of them would be good. Perhaps you know ngā wãhine Māori who have been working in their iwi and on their marae. Perhaps you come from a migrant community, and there’s someone there who would be great. Maybe you know a nurse, a mum, a business woman, a teacher – someone who would do a great job on council. Tell them. Shoulder tap them and ask them to stand.

While we’re thinking about great women, a shout out to some of the local women who had a go at standing last time around. People like Gabrielle Bundy-Cooke and Lorna Johnson and Karen Naylor and Abi Symes. They would all be great on our council.

And there’s one more thing you can do. After you’ve shoulder tapped someone, help her out in her campaign. Perhaps you can manage her campaign for her. Perhaps you can deliver leaflets, or drive her to meetings, or turn up at meetings to back her. She will have a lot of work to do, and she will need your help.

Kia kaha, sisters. Stand strong. And let’s look forward to celebrating many more women this time next year.

Happy International Women’s Day!



For the record, here’s what my notes for this speech look like.  This is why my post is a reconstruction, rather than a copy-and-paste.

Memo from the blue gang: women aren’t citizens

The police have been telling us that they can’t proceed against the Roast Busters gang because they lacked evidence and formal complaints. If only women would come forward, then they could take action against the Roast Busters gang. But they were constrained because no young woman was brave enough to come forward. When questioned, police said that they had received no formal complaints.

They lied.

It turns out that FOUR! young women have come forward with formal complaints. And police did nothing. They allowed the young men to continue raping girls.

From the NZ Herald:

Police have confirmed they received four complaints by alleged victims of the Roast Busters group of young men, between 2011 and last year.

Until last night, police had said they had been unable to bring prosecutions against the young men because they were yet to receive a formal complaint by any victims.

Police had been monitoring the group for the last two years, who bragged online they would ply girls – some as young as 13 – with alcohol and have sex with them.

Their activities came to light this week with media reports, and the Facebook page they boasted on was shut down.

Police have now said four young women aged between 13 and 15 had come forward with complaints of a sexual nature.

There’s so much that’s wrong with what the police have failed to do in this awful case, from victim blaming, to pretending that they could do nothing, to outright lying.

And the message they are sending us? Women don’t matter.

This is deeply worrying. Our police force is an important institution in our society. We give up the right to pursue retribution and recompense ourselves, and hand it over to police, so that they will protect us. We have a contract with them, that saves us from a solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short life in the state of nature. They will act as an impartial group helping to ensure that strong people don’t prey on the weak, that each person is tolerably safe as she or he goes about their daily business, that each of us can live securely, without needing to shelter behind guns and hard fists and high fences. We live in freedom, as free citizens, because we know that our police pursue justice on our behalf, and work hard to keep us safe.

Not any more.

The loud, clear message that police have sent in the last few days in their words, and over the last two years in their actions, is that women don’t count. They count so little that even there is clear evidence of criminal activity, of young men who are over the age of consent “having sex with” girls who are well under the age of consent, they will take no action. Even worse than just taking no action, they will actively choose not to take action and leave even more young women to be raped.

The problem is large. This is not just one incident, not just one police station that has gone a little rogue. It seems to be systemic. We know this from the extraordinary difficulty that Louise Nicholas experienced in getting any kind of justice when she had been raped by police officers, and we know this from Dame Margaret Bazley’s Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, and we know this from the repeated reports from the Auditor-General finding that the progress of police in effecting culture change is slow (one, two, three). Slow beyond all reason.

Very simply, as far as the police are concerned, it seems that women don’t count. Women are not citizens in this country.

That gives us all reason to fear. As women, what the police are telling, through their actions and their inactions, is that we ought not to bother complaining to them if we are raped or sexually assaulted. Because we don’t count.

And through all this, we must remember the young women who have been targetted and raped by this loathsome group of young men in Auckland. They have been assaulted again and again. First by the young men. Second by the police, who would not hear their complaints. Third by the knowledge that their complaints mattered so little, that police would not even take action to stop the young men from raping, even if they weren’t going to prosecute them. And fourth by the systemic injustice of police towards women, telling women that they don’t count.

So what can we do? First, to the young women who laid police complaints: may you find justice. We believe you.

Second, Scuba Nurse has some excellent suggestions about what action we can take, ranging from the small gesture of not participating in rape jokes, to donating to Rape Crisis.

Third, change the way we rear boys. Luddite Journo has some suggestions, in Growing boys, not roast busters.

Fourth, a series of protests is being planned around the country. Keep your eye out on social media for details of rallies planned for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch on the afternoon of 16 November.

Fifth, look after yourselves. Here are some suggestions from The Wireless: A really heavy week on the internet.

Missing the point

There’s a banner headline article in this morning’s Dom Post magazine, “Taming the trolls: tackling the internet haters”. It’s advertised on the front page of the newspaper, and it’s the cover story in the magazine, this time as, “Slaying the trolls: hunting down the internet haters”.

Dom Post front page, 9 March

Dom Post front page, 9 March

It’s not on-line, so you will have to buy a copy if you want to read it. But I wouldn’t bother. The story is blinkered, and narrow, because the reporter doens’t bother to talk to any women.

Which New Zealand bloggers does the journalist talk to? David Farrar and Cameron Slater, of course. And the not-so-prominent Aaron Hape, who runs the Monarchy NZ Facebook page. His major complaint? Once some republicans deliberately posted comments against the monarchy. Wow – big time trolling there.

There’s no attempt to talk to any women bloggers about their experience of trolling. And what we know now is that the abuse handed out on-line to women who dare to blog is outrageous. Check what PZ Myers says about it.

Yeah, the guys get it, too. I thought it was ridiculous before — I had Conservapædia raving about how fat I was, whole blogs dedicated to how stupid I was, and of course, frequent accusations of being gay — but once I got associated with feminism, the hatred reached a whole new level of shrieking. I’ve basically been declared an honorary woman by a whole new category of people, online atheists, who turn out to be worse than creationists, Christians, and Muslims. There are even more rants about my appearance, my ‘irrationality’, my sanity, than ever before.

And the scary thing is that when I compare what I get to what women activists get, I’m getting off easy.

Or James Faa, writing in New Statesman.

First up, there is something disturbingly misogynistic about online bullying. Yes: blokes, male columnists, undoubtedly get it too. But it feels as though there is something far more vicious, gender-related with respect to what women have to endure.

And then there’s the astonishing and horrid abuse handed out to Mary Beard, for daring to be a woman in public with expertise and opinions.

First, the misogyny here is truly gobsmacking. The whole site is pretty hateful (and what some of the comments say about Andrew Marr since he’s been ill are almost worse than anything).. but the whole “cunt” talk and the kind of stuff represented by the photo on right is more than a few steps into sadism. It would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate, especially as all of this comes up on google..

There’s trolling on in the internet, deliberately posting perverse opinions in the hope of stirring up trouble, and then there’s vicious hatred. The Dom Post mentions the person who wished WhaleOil dead, and in one paragraph, it quotes a UK expert, talking about the hatred directed at women. But that’s it.

It’s a shame that the reporter didn’t think a little bit more broadly, and talk to some New Zealand women who are blogging. But perhaps that would have required him to do a little more than just hit the quick-dial on his telephone.

Signal boost: Kaapua Smith’s blog

Blogging from Kaapua Smith, who is in the second place on the Maori Party list.

Her post, Welfare reform: what I learned as a single mum, is a must-read with respect to the National party’s welfare reform.

I wrote a few days ago about Dr Jackie Blue, and talked about the importance of having people who can tell it like it really is in our parliament. I hope that Kaapua Smith is elected: we need voices like hers.

H/T Morgan Godfrey

On being an un-person, otherwise known as a wife

Cross posted

I like to think that on the whole, New Zealand does reasonably well when it comes to gender equality. We’ve had two female prime ministers, two female Governors-General, a female Chief Justice, numerous female Cabinet Ministers and MPs, and although it could be much better, at about 33%, the proportion of women in our Parliament is not too shabby at all.

But it turns out that all this representation at high levels is all very well. Undercutting it all is a deep-seated belief that women can’t be leaders, can’t have opinions in their own right, and are really just a subset of their husbands. A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister of Australia was told to get on the wives bus, and on top of that, the MC at the opening ceremony for the Pacific Islands Forum, told the spouses of the national leaders there that “they could come up and join their husbands now.” Clearly it was simply inconceivable that a woman could be a leader. Mere slips of the tongues, perhaps, but nevertheless gaffes that reveal an underlying attitude of disbelief that a woman can be a leader.

On top of that, the New Zealand Herald, in its Herald on Sunday incarnation, decided to take a leftwing politician and activist to task for not having the same political views as her husband, who is standing for the Labour party. The horror, the horror! The HoS headline was revealing: “Labour wife predicts losses”. Julie Fairey, long-time left wing politician, former candidate for the Alliance, member of the Puketapapa Local Board of Auckland Council, to which she was elected in her own right, not a member of the Labour party, was reduced to being a “Labour wife”. It seems that if your husband is a member of the Labour party, or standing for the Labour party, you too must be Labour, just because he is.

In a society which regarded women as equals, which truly believed that women had minds and talents and abilities of their own, it simply would not be possible to assume that a woman should be on the wives bus. There would be no such thing as a “wives bus”. A woman could not be a “Labour wife”, because everyone would know that women in fact have opinions and political commitments of their own. There would be no such concept as a “Labour wife”. It simply would not make sense.

Check out what Julie had to say about the whole affair herself, at The Hand Mirror. And ponder the irony of right wing blogger David Farrar supporting her, while left wing blogger Bomber Bradbury at Tumeke attacked her. (Don’t read the comments at DPF’s place.) While you’re at it, you might like to read Anthony Hubbard’s article at the Sunday Star Times, trying to work out why there aren’t many women in politics. He speculates that part of the reason may be that:

women candidates still get a lot of flak that men candidates don’t. People want to know how women MPs will care for their children, but not male MPs. Women MPs have their looks, dress sense and sexuality discussed more commonly than men. It’s possible that women are less likely to want to be MPs, and not just because of the sexism they face. Perhaps the whole lunatic life of the politician is less likely to appeal to them. Perhaps fewer women have that particular kind of ambition. If this is true, why?

Perhaps part of the reason is simply that women know that no matter what they do, they will forever be relegated to the wives table.

As for me, I’m off to check which way my husband wants me to vote. After all, I’m a wife, and I couldn’t possibly think for myself.

Everyday feminism and knitting

Cross posted

When I think about the core of feminism for me, I come up with this:

it is [recognising] that women are autonomous adults, capable of making decisions for themselves, of being rational and competent, of conceiving of a vision of the good life, and making choices in order to achieve that vision of the good life.

Or to put it in Stef’s fine words – being a feminist means that you are free to fuck up. Your life, your decisions, your responsibility. Just because you are an autonomous adult.

I’ve taken that from a post I wrote a year or two ago, about why feminists must be pro-choice.

Thinking in terms of autonomy means going further than just making choices. It means that a person has not only made a choice, but that choice is considered, it is unconstrained, it can be put into practice, in the longer term, it adds to her status as an adult.

But that’s all very abstract, very much a theorised position, rather than a guide to everyday living. How feminism manifests in my life is a different matter.

Part of the way it plays out is in the relationships I form with other people, which I try to base on respect. Respect for them as people, respect for their purposes. That respect can include criticising their choices, or approving of them. It certainly involves holding them responsible for those decisions. Only children and some people whose capacity to act autonomously is in some way diminished are immune from responsibility. Being up for criticism is part of being adult. Equally, those who criticise are responsible for what they say. There are no one way streets for adults.

Partly it plays out in listening to women’s experience, and understanding that if someone says that her experience is A, B, and C, then really, it is not up to me to tell her what her experience is, nor that her experience doesn’t matter in the light of my theory. Shut up and listen already is a very, very useful heuristic to live by.

Feminism sees me viewing everything through a gender lens. A gender analysis is my first approach to an issue. Does this affect men and women differently, and if so how, and does it matter? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it just doesn’t matter.

Feminism pushes me to think in terms of inclusion and exclusion, not just for women, but for anyone who doesn’t fit into the nicely fitted moulds of contemporary society. The teenagers’ reading room at the library is great for teens, but deeply exclusive for pre-teens who want to read the books held there. The ramp up to the first floor entrance to the library means that everyone can get into the library, but it’s a long way further to go for people using mobility devices. Sitting on a work table while lecturing may mean nothing to pakeha students, but it causes a jolt of discomfort for many Maori students, making the room a difficult place for learning. And so it goes.

Feminism means that I value women’s work. The first time I went to the Royal Adelaide Show, I was astonished to see displays of knitting and sewing and lacemaking, even tatting, baking and preserving, quilt making and embroidery. Well, not so much the quilting and embroidery, but the trays of ginger crunch and filled sponge cakes and jars of jellies amazed me. That one could enter a competition for such things, and get certificates. Very, very old-fashioned, I thought. And then I thought again, because it could be seen as a celebration of women’s work, of the things that so many women do so well, every day, but because it is housework and home care, baking and cooking rather than creating meals like a chef, it is not valued. My feminism values and celebrates that work.

And my feminism values women’s spaces. For some years, I belonged to a book group. We were a group of women ranging in age from early thirties to late fifties, we read classic works and every six weeks or so, we got together on a Friday night to talk about them. The conversation would start with the book we had all read, then move on to Jane Austen (of course!), and from there segue to work and family and children and current events and partners and on and on. Some of the women in the group were explicitly feminist, some were not, all of us enjoyed each other’s company, and we enjoyed the women-space. The group functioned differently from gender mixed groups I have been involved in, and I suppose it functioned differently from all-male groups, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you about that (pace Jane Austen and conversations between men). I couldn’t say that the all-women group functioned better than mixed groups I have been involved with, because that’s not the point. Nor would I describe it as feminist, although as a feminist, I valued the women’s space that it created, just as a place to be.

So is knitting feminist? No. Not in itself, and not every feminist knits, nor does every feminist like knitting and crafting work. (Though it’s hard to go past these daleks created by a feminist of my acquaintance.) But when a group of women get together, and knit, or bake, or garden, or read books, or engage in the slow conversation of blog posts, then with a feminist eye, I see the joy of creating space for women to be.

None of which means that men’s work, men’s spaces, are not valuable too. Nor that a group such as my book group must always be women-only. Nor that men can’t enjoy craft work. Nor that a blog tagged as feminist is necessarily a space only for women. Just that as a feminist, I recognise and value the way that women’s work and women’s spaces can enable women to flourish.

Dr Pell and the Pill of Evil

The Australian gave Dr George Pell some space on Saturday, to write about why the pill has made things worse for women. For those of you who don’t know him, Dr Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and he is a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. What he writes is utter tosh.

Dr Pell has three arguments about the pill and its terrible impact on women. First, it distorts the marriage market for women. Second, it makes women have abortions. Third, it makes women unhappy.

Let’s take them one at a time.

In the first part of the article, Pell draws on the work of an economist to show that the pill has made things worse for women, because now men don’t have to enter the marriage market in order to get into the sex market, and that means that women can’t find marriage partners anymore, and even if they do, they’re more likely to get divorced.

The economist Pell draws on is Timothy Reichert. His analysis was published in First Things, which is…

published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.

It was founded by Richard John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic theologian. So this is not exactly The Economic Journal, or The Quarterly Journal of Economics. It’s a source that’s highly biased towards the results that Pell wants. As for Dr Timothy Reichert, the economist Pell cites so approvingly: his first degree comes from Franciscan University (the name alone should tell you about the religious orientation of the school), and his masters degree comes from The Catholic University of America. I suspect that he’s got some ideological prior commitments. These days, he works as a transfer pricing specialist. Having said that, his PhD is from George Mason University, and the economics school there is very highly regarded. He is clearly very smart, and very able.

I do not like arguments from authority, so I am not impressed by Pell’s regurgitation of Dr Reichert’s thesis. But if I do not like arguments from authority, then I am also committed to counter-arguments that do not consist only in criticising the authority. However, I am not an economist… Nevertheless, there seem to me to be two serious points to be made in respect of Pell’s use of Reichert’s analysis. The first is that because the pill has enabled women and men to separate sex and marriage, men have put off marriage. Women typically start looking for marriage partners earlier than men do. As a result, there is an age mismatch in the marriage market. And oh noes… women can’t get married because there are no men to marry!

Ah… slow down. Let’s imagine that in the absence of the pill, both men and women want to get married at say, age 20, so that they can have lots of sex. Then along comes the pill. Suddenly, people can have sex without having to get married. Even so, sooner or later, lots of baby lights start flashing in women’s heads, and by say, age 30, they want to get married and have children. Unfortunately, men’s baby lights don’t start flashing until say, age 40. So, there’s a 10 year age gap.

And there’s your answer, Dr Pell. Even if the pill enables men to delay marriage, the consequence is only that women marry men who are somewhat older than they would have been had there been no such thing as the pill. Sure, there’s a mismatch early on, when people may not be able to partner up, but over time, the mismatch sorts itself out.

Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, assume that the age mismatch means that women have less bargaining power, which results in more divorces as men trade in older wives for younger. But that seems odd to me. If men are older when they start looking for child bearing and rearing partners, and older men are more likely to ditch older wives and start looking for younger ones, then surely that increases the number of men looking for wives. There must surely be an over supply of potential husbands, resulting in increased bargaining power for women, not less.

Even so, since when has the church taught that marriage is a transaction, to be engaged in only for what each partner can get out of the other? Many years ago, when we got married in the Catholic church, my partner and I went to a marriage counselling weekend. We talked about all sorts of issues with respect to relationships, and how to build a successful marriage. Absolutely none of the discussion was about what we could sell to each other. It is absurd to cast marriage as a mere transaction in a market place, and normally, the church does not do so. Except when it’s convenient, eh, Dr Pell?

Second, Dr Pell argues that the pill causes abortion. His argument goes like this. The pill creates a contraceptive mentality. The contraceptive mentality means that we regard pregnancy as something to be gotten rid of. Therefore, people are more willing to have abortions. Therefore, the pill causes abortion.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how something that prevents conception causes abortion. It seems to me that it’s ignorance of contraception that causes abortion. That, and ignoring human nature. The Catholic church teaches that all sex outside marriage is wrong (unless it’s priests raping children, of course). As a corollary to that, Catholic girls and boys don’t need to know about contraception, because they don’t need it, because they won’t be having sex.

Pull the other one.

As it turns out, abortion rates are falling, because unintended pregnancy rates are falling. It seems that over time, access to effective contraception is having exactly the desired effect.

Third, Dr Reichert, and Dr Pell, argue that women aren’t as happy now as they were before the advent of the pill. Ah.. because aside from rabble rousers like Betty Friedan, all women were surely much happier when they were required to be housewives raising children. The happiness gap between men and women has been much discussed: the most plausible explanation seems to be that men are still not stepping up.

A big reason that women reported being happier three decades ago — despite far more discrimination — is probably that they had narrower ambitions, Ms. Stevenson says. Many compared themselves only to other women, rather than to men as well. This doesn’t mean they were better off back then.

But it does show just how incomplete the gender revolution has been. Although women have flooded into the work force, American society hasn’t fully come to grips with the change. The United States still doesn’t have universal preschool, and, in contrast to other industrialized countries, there is no guaranteed paid leave for new parents.

Government policy isn’t the only problem, either. Inside of families, men still haven’t figured out how to shoulder their fair share of the household burden. Instead, we’re spending more time on the phone and in front of the television.

Perhaps Dr Pell would like to factor male responsibility, or lack of it, into his thinking.

As a final little point, Dr Pell points out that Western countries are no longer producing enough children to maintain their populations. Ah… so what? If anything, surely this is a good thing?

In any case, since when has the Catholic church ever been concerned about women? It seems to me that the hierarchy only gets worried about women when it seems that women might just gain a little independence, a little autonomy, a little respect, a little being treated as though they were human beings after all.