WOMEN & MMPLocal Government
We are all learning to work in the new MMP environment and, quite obviously, it is not without its frustration's. However, I believe passionately in its ability to encourage a more diverse and consultative environment, one I might say that is better suited to women's consultative style than the more adversarial first past the post one.
MMP has been good for women- we have 36 women MPs now, more women politicians in Parliament than ever before. For too long we have allowed men to speak for us, to decide what is best for us - often without even asking us (and I know you'll agree with my opinion on where that male intuition has got us to date.)
But as women in Parliament we are having to look to partnerships and relationships now and for the future that we may not have had to consider in the past - with each other, with new parties, with our departments (and our departments with us), with non-government organisations, with the public and the media.
I know you will understand what I mean when I say how much more powerful we women are working as a team, be that as business women mothers or just friends. The energy created by bouncing ideas off each other helps us to focus and keep going.
I believe that for the first time in our history we have a real opportunity for women in Central Government to make a difference, not only to the culture of Parliament but to society as a whole.
For the first time Parliament now has a cross party Women MPs committee, which includes women from 5 different political parties.
Naturally we don't agree philosophically on every issue. However what is encouraging to me is that on the issues where we can find common ground as women we are working in a consultative way to progress issues.
Women in Parliament are making a difference.
Lets look at the Coalition for a moment. Certainly there are difficulties and New Zealand First are on a learning curve steeper than most other parties, and are in the full glare of the media spotlight while they do it. But what the media are not reporting is that behind the reported so-called scandals are two separate political parties working co-operatively together in a very constructive way. Enabling Ministers like myself to be moving policy and forward legislation in a much faster way than is usually possible.
A good example of this is the recent progress made by Anne Batten and myself within both our Caucus's in the Matrimonial Property Act.
I am delighted that the Government has announced that two bills will proceed this year. We have been waiting since 1988 for progress in this area.
The first bill will amend the existing Matrimonial Property Act amending the deficiencies identified by the 1988 working party to ensure the equitable operation of the Act.
The second bill will address de facto relationship property legislation. Currently there is no specific law for dividing property when a de facto relationship ends, although the issues arising are similar to those faced by married couples, for example, childcare and recognising non-financial contributions.
A recent study of breakdowns of de facto relationships showed that generally the party not recorded as an owner of property are accorded greater weight than non-financial contributions to the relationship.
It has become fashionable to knock MMP. I believe it can and will work, however, If we are to achieve outcomes for women, not only politicians, but the whole community, especially the media, has to understand the new dynamics it has introduced into the parliamentary environment. It required a new form of activism.
And that will mean, just as the Women's Committee is doing, talking and listening to each other to find the common ground and the strategies to forward the issues as well as introducing a new openness into the way we debate issues. Maybe some find it a bit scary because its new, but I enjoy it because I think its healthy and better than simply brushing difficult issues under the carpet as we once used to do.
Women have a great deal to offer. We understand the pressure of a working environment, of managing a home and a family. We also understand how to live with compassion and caring for others. This can't be such a bad way to run a Government or a country.
I think one of our strengths is finding the common ground on which to move issues forward rather than focusing on the differences.
We can see this when we look at the relative extremes uniting for a common cause, such as the church and feminist community against pornography, the CTU and Employers federation against Compulsory Superannuation or the church and the women's community in wanting a drop in abortion rates.
This is true also of cultural differences. I would not pretend to stand here and say I know what it is to be a Maori, an Asian or a Pacific Island woman, but I do know what it is to be a woman and a mother and the enormous frustration's in achieving everything for our families, our work and ourselves.
We all want what is best for our family and our community and that focuses our minds on what is important and what is trivia..
An issue that really motivates me politically is the development of appropriate social policy for New Zealand and how that should fit into the economic framework of our country.
Social and economic policy cannot exist in isolation from each other.
I have felt a sense of deep frustration that over the past 20 years that no Government was willing to undertake the challenge of redefining the role of the State, particularly within social policy. The boundaries between and individual's responsibility and that of the sates, in my eyes anyway are very blurry.
I know that it is easy to judge with the benefit of hindsight, but it was always my view that before ever embarking on a process of economic reform, we first ought to have put in place a process of definition of both personal and state responsibility.
By failing to do so, we have inhibited Government from exiting areas where it might be more appropriate to encourage personal responsibility and vice versa.
Also we have hung onto the old labels and concepts such as left versus right, liberal versus conservative. Certainly the lines between political parties and what they stand for have blurred and our thinking need to catch up with the reality.
And what do these labels mean in political terms these days and in view of international trends. I suggest no much to our young people and as a consequence it is very hard to encourage them to put a value on democracy, let alone become involved in it's processes or to even see that it has an influence on their lives.
So why haven't we addressed this issue before now? Well I suspect because it is a very difficult and sensitive are it seemed all a bit too hard. This resulted in our viewing social policy in a more superficial way rather than dealing with its core. Rather than leading the way into the next millennium with a balanced mix of economic and social reform governments collectively have continued to react in an ad hoc way, tinkering with the edges of social policy while endeavouring to keep the tax base under control.
Accordingly, Governments have failed to design our polices from a principles base.
Twenty years of this sort of approach to social policies has not achieved meaningful outcomes for women. Meaningful for our quality of life. Certainly not meaningful messages and signal to our young people and I believe what we are experiencing now is a logical consequence of failing to clearly defined the state's role in our society.
Also I think that there is a sense of dislocation by a lot of people where they see what Government is doing and feel that it doesn't affect them.
I believe that the debate of the next century will be about quality of life issues. The focus is already moving from economic stability to social cohesion, and to keep up we need to re-evaluate where the state should be.
If we are to contain expenditure should we only targe sectors of the population most at need or should we be endeavouring to reprioritise and targe social policy in a more inclusive and rewarding way so we can let people get on with their lives.
As part of this I want to see women empowered towards economic independence. We should be allowed to take responsibility for ourselves rather than disincentives that only serve in the long run to keep us dependent on men or the state.
What I want to see is a reprioritising in state expenditure and I suppose to try and find my own jargon something like targeted universality. In areas such as health, education and law and order there must be a universal component.
For an example the recent initiative to fund GP visits for children under 6 is in my opinion, real progress in the area of Government targeting and defining its responsibility to benefit the whole country both socially and economically, under the concept of targeted universality. Being smart about our policies and investing in areas where we can make the most difference for the whole community.
We all know that pre-school children get sick more than any other children's age group, we also know that if we look after our children's well being, we are looking after the country's well being.
It is a real issue in my home city of Auckland. Children present too often in the A&E departments without having presented to a GP first and only coming to the hospital when the child is quite ill. Being free of the financial burden it is our aim that we can now encourage parents to develop a trusting relationship with their local GP.
Another example is education. Prior to the 80's it was part of New Zealand's post war dream that every child be entitled to receive free primary secondary and tertiary education. It was up to us as individual what we did with that opportunity. But there wasn't then a mountain of social welfare safety nets.
Then as we commenced the process of economic reform and burgeoning state social expenditure, we needed to re-evaluate this commitment, to contain costs and place limits and accountabilities into funding mechanisms.
But we didn't at the same time define where the states role should start and finish and where the community and individual responsibly lay, so we find ourselves with the funding difficulties that we now have.
This has placed a heavy burden on the community, particularly the voluntary sector.
I come back to the principle if our children's needs are met first chances are so are our nations.
The same is true for women, particularly mothers as carers of children. On becoming Minister of Women's Affairs there were a number of frustration's for me.
The first being the Ministry are restricted by being a policy only agency and do not have an advocacy and monitoring role.
One of the biggest frustration for me was that they did not have a women's health policy area or analyst. In fairness to them it was largely because of
Limited resources and
That they were in the situation of their minister also being the Minister of Health mirrored by an Associate Minister.
I feel absolutely passionate about this - health is a key priority for women and so I am pleased to be able to announce to you that as of 1 July the Ministry will have a women's health policy analyst who will be dedicated to policy work on women's health issues.
We must bring the hard health and social issues out into the public arena - especially mental health problems. what is happening to address the appalling suicide statistics released last month - did you know that the number of young women committing suicide is increasing - why? what is happening in our society to cause young women to take their own lives.
And what about our abortion rates - there were nearly 15,000 abortions carried out in New Zealand in 1996 and they are still trending upwards. This at the same time as having one of the highest unplanned teenage pregnancy rates in the OECD.
New Zealand research shows there is a profound lack of knowledge amongst young New Zealanders on matters surrounding human sexuality and relationships. Only approximately 50% of schools in New Zealand comply with the physical and health education syllabus prescribed by the Education Department. Countries such as the Netherlands have an abortion rate one-third of that in New Zealand, but significantly also have comprehensive, well resourced national prevention programmes that includes giving young women and men assertive skills to take responsibility for contraception or to say no The Ultimate Choice!!
Likewise welfare - we only hear about it when its sensational. Where is the debate on why some of our young women are locked into dependency, on the state or on the men in their lives. What can we do to stop these women falling off the cliff in the first place. Its a cliche I know but why, why, do we remain so focused on the ambulance - why do they fall - what gets them to the edge and why aren't we talking about it and more importantly even, why aren't we researching it.
Women need to be at the forefront of this debate. The focus is already moving from economic stability to social cohesion. It seems the work of economists like Suzanne Snively will finally fall on fertile ground. - that is, measuring in economic terms the real costs of unpaid work that addresses so many of our social requirements. The Ministry's proposed time-use survey is another vital piece of research in this area.
The lack of general recognition of the value of unpaid work, particularly women's unpaid work, has been with us for a very long time. The publication of Marilyn Waring's book, "Counting for Nothing" in 1986 certainly stimulated a lot of debate about the issues in New Zealand, as well as in other countries.
It would be fair to say that until now, most of the talk about unpaid work in New Zealand has been among women. So why is it an issue?
Women know that there is an unequal division of responsibility for doing unpaid work. That's one issue. However, an over-riding difficulty is that because there is no measurement of it, the value of the work is not recognised or understood by many people, even by some of the people who are doing it. So we are working towards being able to measure unpaid work, and to get information about who does it, how much they do, what activities this might involve, and what it is worth.
The reason this is so important is because women's unpaid work deserves recognition as a significant contribution to the wealth and the day to day orderly functioning of society. In 1995 the United Nations Development Programme estimated that a bit more than half of the world's total work is done by women. Of that work, only one third takes place in the paid economy. Of men's work, that is the "smaller half " of the world's work, three quarters takes place in the paid economy.
At the moment we have a system which only gives full recognition to work which is done for money. If an activity is not rewarded in money, then our current system does not consider that its worth can be thought of in money terms. As Marilyn said, it counts for nothing.
Some people might think that this approach reduces everything to money, and takes away that special quality that a lot of women's unpaid work has, especially caring for other people. It is important to remember that all we are talking about here is measuring the extent of unpaid work so that it's value to society can be considered alongside the value of the paid work. The people who do the unpaid work can have their contribution respected, alongside the people who do the paid work. We are not talking about what is appropriate for particular people to do - that belongs in another debate.
Unpaid work includes things that people like doing, as well as those they don't - it is just like paid work in that respect. The way an unpaid work activity can be identified separately from other unpaid things a person might be doing, is whether another person could be paid to do it.
So, to bring this kind of definition into reality: this means that washing the dishes counts as unpaid work, but watching a movie or having a rest doesn't. Someone else could be paid for doing the dishes, but you can't pay someone else to watch a movie or have a rest for you, and still get the benefit of it yourself. You can't get someone else to read a book, have a bath, or go to Church for you. These activities are definitely not unpaid work.
But the dishes do have to be washed, the dinners cooked and the shopping done, in the interests of the health of people in the household. We have a society which is based on people living in households, and we all have responsibility for the different things that need doing. Someone has to wash the dishes, just as someone has to earn income. The household needs clean dishes, in the same way that it needs income to support the people living there. Both of these jobs are essential for the household to function, so both deserve recognition as contributions to the overall running of the household.
So how can we measure these different kinds of activities? The internationally accepted way of collecting the information is by means of a time use survey. Many other countries do this, and are already producing information not just about the extent of unpaid work in their countries, but also about many other activities as well.
A time use survey literally measures the time that people spend on a range of different activities. The people who are taking part in the survey fill out a diary, usually for 48 hours, in which they record every 15 minutes what they are doing, where they are, who they are doing it for, and so on. Don't worry - if you are asleep, you can do it when you wake up!
This information gets recorded under broad categories of activity. From this, they can build up a picture of which sorts of people do which sorts of activity, and how much time they spend on them. For example, profiles can be developed of the typical day of a mother with two young children and a part time job; or the day of a woman in her thirties with a partner, a full time job and no children; or the day of an older woman who runs the household, helps her elderly neighbour with her shopping, does her weekly spell assisting people at the Citizen's Advice Bureau, and then looks after her grandchildren after school before cooking the dinner and then going to the local drama group in the evening. Profiles of the daily activities of many different groups of people can be provided.
A time use survey can also show how much time the whole country puts into doing certain things on a typical day, such as getting to work, being ill in bed, watching television, fixing the car, shopping for food, looking after pre-school children, helping older children with their homework, coaching the local high school sports team, or weeding the vegetable garden. While the possibilities are not endless, it is true to say that a time use survey produces a lot of information!
So how would the information be used? For a start, the Ministry of Women's Affairs would find the information very helpful in its role of providing advice on policy issues from a gender perspective. So much of the information about the activities and time allocation of women is simply not available from anywhere else. Many other government agencies would be able to use it to produce better quality policy advice and programme planning, just through having accurate information on the daily circumstances of the people who will be affected by those policies. They also would have more information about women's lives and responsibilities than is available at the moment, which would enhance their ability to develop policies which reflect the reality of women's lives, rather than having to use stereotypes as a model.
It is not just the Government, but very many other public and private sector organisations which would find that time use information enhances other information they already have.
For example: bus companies would be able to see how many people are still at work at say 8pm in the evening, and will be able to develop more accurate marketing policies to encourage those people to go home by bus. Civil Defence would get a much more accurate idea of where people usually are at particular times of the day, which would help their planning of where services would be needed in times of disaster. Big shopping malls and retail complexes would be able to estimate more accurately how many people are out shopping at certain times of the day. Television and radio broadcasters could get an idea of where their audience is and what else they might be doing when they have the radio or TV on. Are they really watching? Organisers of big sports functions will be able to see what other activities sporting functions are competing with, at the times when sporting events are usually held. These are just a few examples of other uses of time use information.
Getting back to the reasons why women are interested in a time use survey which would provide information about unpaid work, we get back to the importance of its value. There is a lot of international discussion going on about how the value of the work can be measured. There are several different methods of how to put a monetary value on the time spent on the particular activity. This value is usually based either on the going rate for the job if the work was being done in the paid workforce, or else on the income which the person could have earned, had they not been otherwise engaged doing the unpaid work.
When New Zealand carried out an experimental pilot time use survey in 1990, the value of the combined unpaid work done by women and men was afterwards estimated as providing value into the economy equivalent to between 30 and 68 percent of the GDP, depending on the valuation used. GDP, the Gross Domestic Product, is a measure of the value of all goods and services produced in the paid economy of the whole country.
Given the huge value New Zealand is getting out of its unpaid workers, a time use survey would be of great assistance in getting this contribution recognised, and the work respected. New Zealand's national accounts could include unpaid work information in reports on the economy, for all to see.
The fact that women carry out the greater share of unpaid work in countries like ours means that the greater share of this acknowledgment and respect is in fact long overdue to New Zealand women.
Women have the compass for this new direction - our intuition, our ability to nurture and lead, will show the way. Men, given a choice, will maintain the status quo - why wouldn't they. But there is a better way and it is women that will make the difference.
It irritated me that when I spoke earlier in the year about the importance of the role of women in family life - some people commented that I wanted to take women backwards.
I want to make it clear to you that this is something I feel very passionately about. If we don't put our stake in the ground now, and say that women must have the choice to live the life they want, and for that life to be valued as part of our society, be that as a business woman, a woman at home, or a woman who wants to do both, we will indeed be going backwards.
Women in the community raising children, caring for elderly parents are every bit as valuable to our country as those of us who are in the paid work force.
And it is in the same vein that we must collectively address the issue of the compulsory superannuation referendum.
In the past I've spoken about protecting the economic status of women in New Zealand, economic independence of course contributes to our quality of life.
My view on superannuation is that its healthy we are at least having this debate because we are the ones who are generally worse off than men in retirement. But we haven't been prepared to talk about it or get our minds around it up until now.
The debate is really about social planning for the predicted population bulge early next millennium. In the spirit of MMP, there are no goodies and baddies, or black and white, in this debate, but shades of grey - so its important we do really understand what's at stake.
The referendum is focussing us on this issue - we are so busy usually just coping with daily life - its easy to get so bogged down that we don't have the energy to raise our heads up enough to look forward to retirement, let alone plan for it.
I happen to admire both Angela Foulkes and Winston Peters. Clearly I don't always agree with Angela philosophically, but she has always been up-front about her advocacy for women in New Zealand and has shown her commitment in the amount of time she has spent in the last couple of years on the Superannuation Accord.
My observation of Winston is that he is genuinely concerned and motivated about how New Zealand is going to finance the long-term costs of New Zealand superannuation benefits, having regard to the major change in demographics that will occur in the 21st century, and improve the savings base of this country.
Winston and I campaigned together for MMP because we both believed this would bring about a better democracy for New Zealand. And I still passionately believe this. And I think Winston's desire to take this to a referendum is consistent with his views to ensure stronger public participation in the democratic process.
However, the time-line seems to be impossibly short to resolve the abatement issues, the vehicles for savings, the tax implications and so on. Let alone fully informing the public about these quite complex issues.
It is also a great shame that unless we can move the time-line out we will not be able to make use of the information arising out the review of the Superannuation Accord as the scheme design is being developed - information which could be extremely valuable.
I do believe that Winston is genuinely convinced that if the appropriate scheme can be developed it will be to the benefit of women, in that, his receptiveness to adopt the principles developed by the Ministry of Women's Affairs to ensure women aren't discriminated against is a measure, for me, of his goodwill in this process.
Both points of view I'm sure, are equally valid - as I said, there are no goodies and baddies in this debate. These are very complex issues that require us to spend more than a few minutes scrutinising them and unfortunately the media have a tendency to over simplify issues.
What I say to you is this - I think we should be reserving our final judgement until we know the final design of the scheme and then get out and campaign vigorously. This is a decision that will not only impact on our daughters and grand-daughters but also our great-grand-daughters - they will not thank us if we are short sighted now.
The bottom line for me is that we must preserve for women individual entitlement. Government Super is the only individual entitlement that women enjoy by way of a benefit in new Zealand and something for which we can thank Sir Robert Muldoon.
For many women, even those living in households of higher than average discretionary income, Government super is often the first money they can have for themselves.
I have already tonight expressed my personal frustration over the Ministry of Women's Affairs restrictions in carrying out a role of monitoring and advocacy and believe that there is a need for these two roles.
I believe that the collective knowledge and expertise of voluntary women's organisations has not always been sufficiently recognised by the Government as a valuable resource. The coalition agreement sought to correct this by the establishment of a Women's Commissioner. This was incorporated into the Coalition Agreement.
But before we move formally towards the establishment of such a position, I believe a half way point needs to be considered to ensure that when such a role is established, it will be robust and durable. I am therefore recommending that we set up a Women's Consultative Council.
We will be able to learn from this initiative how we go about the next step of setting up an ongoing and formal process of consultation with women throughout New Zealand.
I want to see a social revolution occur in New Zealand.
There is the notion of change that it is caused by the unreasonable person. Not the reasonable.
The reasonable are accepting of things. The unreasonable are perverse. It is the unreasonable who question the status quo.
The reasonable say ``why should I do something?'' The unreasonable say ``why not?''
On that criteria I am an unreasonable person.
Mary Robinson, President of Ireland, I believe is a wonderfully unreasonable woman. She once asked a journalist ``If feminists don't value the work of the women who stay at home, how is society going to value it?''. Her personal view on feminism is that it allow each woman to go her own way, to go beyond just wanting more women in particular positions, going much deeper than that and much more fundamental.
She also said ``You move politics along by being able to inject a sense of vision about certain values. Take, for example, relations on this island. If it's possible to project the values of pluralism, of respect for difference, of accommodating and finding space for difference, that should influence the policies of a political framework for peace and reconciliation.''.
When Mary Robinson started her campaign to become president of Ireland, the odds against her were considered to be 100 to 1.
Mary Robinson won. She declared her 1990 victory a great, great day for Irish women, and said ``The women of Ireland, instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.
Although it may not always appear so from this far away, there have been significant changes in the culture of Ireland, generated by Mary Robinson and her vision. And I believe there are many parallels, and lessons, for us in New Zealand - especially in creating a political frame work for peace and reconciliation, particularly in the area of our race relations.
If the culture of Ireland can be changed by the vision of one woman, perhaps we are being too sensitive about what is perceived to be the unreasonable nature of MMP.
Yes MMP is giving the country a bit of shake up but lets capitalise on the opportunity it is giving us to incorporate the sense of vision about values that Mary Robinson speaks of , the values that will allow NZ to move forward and allow us to forge new partnerships.
If however women are to capitalise on this we must listen and advocate for each other. It is OK for us to stand up and voice an opinion. Somehow in the financial focus of recent decades we have distanced ourselves from being involved. Where has the passion of the 1970's feminist gone? Are we too busy simply coping with life?
If we are to make a difference we must accept that it is OK for women to be activists - indeed if we are to make a difference we must be activists.
It saddens me that too many women today have become single issue focused Our strength is working together on the common ground.
I believe that our country needs to undertake a social revolution if our priorities as women and mothers are ever to be heard.
I ask that you work with those women who are prepared to bring about this revolution more importantly I ask that you be part of it. Thank you.