Address to International Women’s Day Breakfast

  • Jo Goodhew
Women’s Affairs

Tena koutou, Tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

I extend a warm welcome to our special guest speaker this International Women’s Day morning, Her Excellency Leonora Rueda: Ambassador for Mexico. I acknowledge Jen McKinlay-Birkin: President of the Zonta Club of Wellington, Lynn McKenzie, Vice President and President-Elect of Zonta International, Rae Julian, the President of United Nations (UN) Women Aotearoa NZ, Swiss Ambassador Her Excellency, Marion Weichelt:, United States Embassy Chief of Mission; Marie Damour:, Fellow Ministers and MPs, CE Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MWA) Rowena Phair, Deputy Children’s Commissioner Jo Cribb, CEO Weltec Linda Sissons and Banking Ombudsman Deborah Battell.

Amongst those I have not specifically mentioned are probably more people that I should have.  Suffice to say you are all very warmly welcomed to New Zealand’s parliament this International Women’s Day.

Thanks must go to UN Women Aotearoa New Zealand and Zonta International for organising this event.

Welcome to Liz Brown of UN Women, both Liz and Jen McKinlay-Birkin of Zonta will also be speaking today.

In welcoming Her Excellency, Leonora Rueda, Ambassador for Mexico, our keynote speaker I note that thirty years ago it would have been unlikely to have a woman ambassador with us.  This reflects just how far women have come.

It is great to see young women amongst us. 

Today’s theme is ‘Equality means Business,’ and this means ensuring that you have the opportunities to take your future careers wherever you choose.

This is particularly relevant to me, as the mother of three daughters, all studying at University. I’m probably much more interested and focussed on the choices they have, than I was on my choices at the same age.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate UN Women for successfully launching the Women’s Empowerment Principles for business in New Zealand.  This is a great contribution.

New Zealand’s leadership on women’s issues

On International Women’s Day, New Zealand has much to celebrate.  As we all know, New Zealand was the first country where women won the right to vote and New Zealand is well respected internationally for promoting women’s rights.  In fact, New Zealand is currently placed sixth out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2011.

Today almost two-thirds of our university graduates are women, and at 9.6 percent we have the second lowest gender pay gap in the OECD.

Despite considerable progress, there is still much to be done.  Women remain under-represented in leadership roles, particularly in business, and while the gender pay gap has reduced from 10.6 percent in 2010, we still have some way to go.

There are also significant differences in outcomes, including earnings, among women and rates of violence against women remain unacceptably high.

Given this backdrop, the work of MWA will continue to focus on the following three outcomes: increasing women’s economic independence; increasing the number of women in leadership roles; and increasing women’s safety from violence.

The Government promotes flexible work arrangements, family-friendly workplaces and plans to extend the right to request flexible working arrangements to all employees.  This will support both men and women to balance paid work alongside family and other responsibilities.

The Government is also committed to increasing women's participation on state sector boards to 45 per cent by 2014.  We also strongly support a number of initiatives in the private sector aimed at increasing the number of women in top leadership positions.  I will discuss this in more detail later.

The Government is also focused on protecting victims from crime and have introduced a range of initiatives including the establishment of a Victims Centre.

Equality means business

As I have already mentioned, today’s theme is ‘Equality means Business’, so this will be my focus.

Making better use of women’s skills is vital to improving the performance of New Zealand businesses and to strengthening our economy.

As I have outlined, the Government is committed to increasing women's participation on state sector boards, but the need for change is more urgent in the private sector.

In fact, New Zealand is behind other developed economies on private sector board participation.  Women hold only 9.3 percent of the board roles in the top 100 companies on the New Zealand Stock Market and only 21 percent of senior management positions.

There have, however, been some encouraging moves by business to try and address this issue. For example, the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) will be consulting on a new rule that would require publicly listed companies to declare their numbers of female directors and senior managers.

In addition, the Institute of Directors New Zealand has launched a mentoring programme to assist women who aspire to becoming private sector directors.

These initiatives are very promising, but much of the work lies ahead of us.  Government can assist and encourage, but ultimately these changes need to be driven by business leaders.

Closing

Over the last thirty years women have achieved a great deal, and we have much to celebrate.  It is also important that we maintain our momentum towards positive change.  We owe this to the young women with us today.

And to you, our young women, I would encourage you to think outside the square.  Do not limit your study and career options.  You can be anything you want.  You may be tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, surgeons, business or political leaders, plumbers or builders.  The future for you is wide open.

Finally, thank you to each of you for your commitment to improving the lives of women in New Zealand.  Today you rightly celebrate all that you, and many women who have stood beside and gone before you, have achieved.