• Christine Fletcher
Women's Affairs

Strengthening and supporting the ability of women to carry out their role as stewards of family life will be a key policy direction of the Ministry of Womens' Affairs under the new government.

This objective for the Ministry was outlined by the Minister of Womens' Affairs, Chris Fletcher, in her first major policy statement issued today following discussions with senior officials.

She said effort would be directed at harnessing the experience and first hand knowledge of community womens' groups in seeking to rebuild family life as a cornerstone of New Zealand society.

"It is clear to me that the women of New Zealand are searching for leadership from Wellington in their constant struggle to reassert the place of the family as a source of security, values and social cohesion.

I will bring advocacy to this issue and, with all New Zealand women, will be looking for support from leaders in the Government to ensure that we are able to develop policies to address their needs and monitor the effectiveness of our initiatives.

"There can be no doubt that over the past two decades the fabric of family life has been under constant threat. Among the factors responsible are economic pressures, emphasis on self-interest before social responsibility and communications revolution.

"Thousands of New Zealand women feel powerless in their efforts to hold families together and instil a sense of confidence and responsibility in their children so that they can go about developing their talents from a base of security, affection and understanding.

"It is my view that many of the ills identified by the social services of our country have their origins in the difficulties confronting women in managing their families through this period of intense social change.

"Thousands of them undergo great stress trying to manage multiple roles including those of economic provider, often through necessity rather than choice, and primary care giver. In situations when men walk away from their responsibilities in partnerships the burden imposed is even worse.

"We've had economic revolution. Now is the time to get on with handling the social consequences. The silent majority of family women are ready to make their contribution to resolving them in the best interests of all New Zealand. I want to see the Ministry of Womens' Affairs at the forefront of this effort".

Mrs Fletcher said major issues before the Ministry included: A need to develop a greater sense of social responsibility throughout New Zealand society; Reducing the "gender" pay gap; Addressing the monetary value of both paid and unpaid work carried out by women; The pressing requirement to have greater representation of women at the tables of power.

"My constituency work in Auckland and the discussions that I've had since assuming office have convinced me that political leadership of the country must be address now the concerns of the family women of New Zealand.

"For example, is it not fair to believe that many of the problems that have surfaced in the 'children in crisis' debate stem from the powerlessness of women in families to do what they consider right for their children?

"There is much that we as concerned women can do to identify the problems in this area and set them to rights. Most of us don't want sociologists and consultant analysts to tell us what the problems are and how we should fix them.

"We, as family women and nurturers of families, know what is required. We deal in our homes every day with crisis, large and small, of children at risk. They're our own. Our loved ones. We suffer when they suffer, we agonise when they make the wrong decisions, we rejoice when they are happy and when they achieve.

"It is vital now that we find out what the women of this country want to help them erase this particular agony from our list of social ills. I know that womens' organisations throughout New Zealand have strong views.

"I want them expressed so that we can mobilise through the Ministry an effort to make sure our children are raised in an atmosphere of security, support and confidence".

Mrs Fletcher said the Ministry is dedicated to improving the well being of the women of New Zealand and by extension that of the children in their care.

She said other matters high on her list for priority attention were the approaching debate on superannuation and the scheduled population conference.

"Women of New Zealand are vitally affected by issues which will arise in the context of these deliberations.

"The shape of any proposed superannuation package put forward for consideration will inevitably have a major impact on women. It must take into account matters as the position of women in the home, the often enforced change of work women must undertake because of childbirth and child raising and the impact of split partnerships.

"I have already been approached by leaders of womens' groups expressing their desire to ensure the voice of women is well heard on this matter".

Mrs Fletcher said women had a "quite obvious" interest in future population policies of the country and "we look forward to making a constructive contribution to that debate".