The challenge for women in 2017

I was asked to speak on a panel of “Inspiring Women” with MPs Jenny Salesa and Mojo Mather (no pressure!) at the PPTA Conference on 4 March, on the topic of “the challenges for women in 2017”. Here’s my speaking notes, which are probably a lot clearer than what I managed to burble out live!

There are a lot of challenges for women in 2017. There’s the issues which get boxed away as “women’s issues” like equal pay, and there’s so many issues which disproportionately affect women, which we don’t always acknowledge, like poverty, and housing, and childcare, and the population getting older. There’s the big orange elephant in the room, because right wing authoritarianism as embodied by Donald Trump is going to be terrible for women, not just in the United States.

But across all of this, the huge challenge is keeping up hope when there’s so many battles to fight. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that we can’t do it all and it’s not going to be fixed overnight.

That’s an area where I think everyone here can take a lot of comfort. Because you’re doing your bit every day. Education is fundamental to progress and social change

People – usually right-wing people – try to act like education is just about facts and figures and career-focused skill development, but we all know that it’s a hell of lot more than that, and I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without the education I got, not just from what I learned but because for five years I was taught that educating women is the most important thing you can do to effect social change.

My high school was Baradene College, a Catholic girls’ school in Auckland. It’s part of the Society of the Sacred Heart, which was founded in 1800 by Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, who placed huge importance on educating young women. Baradene emphasised the five Sacred Heart goals, several of which are obviously about God, but goal four is: A social awareness which impels to action.

In those formative years, I wasn’t just learning to read and write and calculate molar masses. I was becoming a member of a society which has values and principles, a citizen who has a duty to think about the world around me and be active in making the it a better place.

So just by working in education, whatever job you do, is tremendous. I’m not going for cheap pop here. The next generation of fighters for social justice who will change the world are being shaped right now in your classrooms. Hell, why do we think the right keep trying to screw the whole system up?

That’s a bit big picture though. I work for a union, and although I can go home every day knowing I’ve done my part for this broad enduring movement of ours, it’s also good to have little concrete things to hold on to. That’s another challenge, doing small things every day to stand up for ourselves and for all the women around us.

I’ve worked in the public service myself. I’ve been to a lot of meetings. I know a lot of us have had the same experiences: men dominating the discussion. Men being presumed to be the experts. Men making suggestions that we just made ten minutes ago but getting all the credit.

Soraya Chemaly wrote at Role Reboot and then at the Huffington Post about ten words every girl should learn:

“Stop interrupting me.”
“I just said that.”
“No explanation needed.”

Sometimes it’s easier to stand up for other people instead of yourself. When President Obama took office, a lot of the women who came into the White House felt sidelined, or that their contributions weren’t being properly appreciated. So they got together and came up with a strategy of amplification – when one woman made a good suggestion, the next woman would repeat it, and give credit. It’s as simple as saying, “I really liked Jenny’s idea, let’s try that.” or “Mojo made a great point when she said …………….”

We can even flip those ten simple words from Soraya Chemaly around to speak up for each other.

“Stop interrupting her.”
“She just said that.”
“She doesn’t need an explanation.”

We’re union members, so we appreciate the importance of solidarity, and standing together. And even though it feels like such a cliche, getting together with a bunch of women to have a glass of wine and a moan about work or life or living in a patriarchal society can do immense good for your mental health.

These big issues like equal pay and gendered violence and the rise of authoritarianism are going to take a lot of us a long time to overcome, so we have to help each other not burn out.

I’m just going to finish with the scolding heard around the world, when Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced as she tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King in the US Senate. Justifying why he had blocked Warren from speaking for the rest of the debate, Mitch McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” I think that’s our greatest challenge in 2017: persisting.

My top 5 politicians of the year

Duncan Garner announced his pick for the top 5 politicians of the year yesterday, and one thing really stood out.

family guy no girls allowed

That’s right, all of them, without exception, are from the North Island. I mean, you can quibble that Bill English is technically a Southland boy, he lives in Karori, people.

sebastian roche and

Oh. And they’re all men.

Duncan had a pretty straight-up explanation for that.

And he’s right. We shouldn’t let box-ticking or tokenism or silly quotas get between us and the stone cold political assessments. So here, based entirely on objective factors like talent, media profile, principled action and political impact, and certainly not biased by any inherent preferment or societal narratives of what success looks like, are my top 5 politicians of the year.

5. Metiria Turei

You may not see it, but you have to assume she’s had her work cut out for her getting the Greens from Male Co-leader A to Male Co-leader B this year. And where other parties can’t so much as blink without cries of internal disunity and caucus ructions, the Greens have just got on and got the job done.

4. Jacinda Ardern

A strangely polarising figure in the Labour Party, half see her as the Second Coming and half despise her, not despite but because she has tremendous public profile in so-called “soft” media. Yet “soft” media is one of the keys (pardon the pun) to the PM’s success – as much as we pols nerds may rail against the perfidy of accepting interview requests from Radio Sport and ignoring Morning Report’s calls, it works. Unfortunately most NZers don’t get their news from Morning Report.

It sounds cynical if you assume that “soft” media is the be-all and end-all of politics these days. But Labour can be a both/and party, and that means doing Checkpoint and 7 Days.

3. Annette King

Just so you’ll forgive me for #4, Labour’s deputy leader has spent all year embarrassing Jonathan Coleman with inconvenient facts about his failure to properly resource our health system. If you took a drink every time he whined “no you’re wrong and Labour was worse” you’d have spent most of 2015 very happily inebriated.

2. Judith Collins

Boo, hiss, et cetera. But even though I totally called this, pretty much the day she resigned in utter disgrace, it’s impressive how delicately, yet determinedly, she’s rebuilding her profile and her credibility. We’re talking about a Minister of the Crown who threw senior public servants under the bus when members of her party were caught rorting the taxpayer, who brazenly coordinated attack bloggers and gossip mavens to do her bidding, and who was plagued with story after sordid story of the shady use of ministerial trips to help her husband’s business … and now she’s back with a weekly newspaper column and regularly going head-to-head with the deputy leader of the Labour Party on the telly.

Next stop: an inevitable return to Cabinet, and after that, a thunderous (but probably/hopefully unsuccessful) charge at the National leadership.

1. Mojo Mathers, Jan Logie, Clare Curran, Poto Williams, Denise Roche, Louisa Wall, Nanaia Mahuta, Catherine Delahunty, Marama Davidson, Jenny Salesa, Eugenie Sage, and Julie-Anne Genter

For making the voices of survivors of sexual violence heard in our House of Parliament and staging a beautiful collective act of resistance when they were shut down, making international headlines in the process. Doing the right thing and winning the media battle at the same time: that’s good politics.