Allanah Colley: More than just another statistic

The facts

Let’s start with some facts. It’s been 125 years since women in Aotearoa were granted suffrage. The majority of students in New Zealand universities are women, at 61 per cent. It was over 120 years ago that Ethel Benjamin became the first woman in the British Empire to appear as a counsel in court. We have had three female Prime Ministers and we now have one who is pregnant and taking paid parental leave while in office (as well as our Minister for Women!). New Zealand ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women into domestic law over 30 years ago.

But (and this is a rather large but), only 38 per cent of MPs in the New Zealand Parliament are women. One in five New Zealand women will experience sexual assault as an adult and one in three girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16. Māori women account for more than 60 per cent of our female prison population, but only seven per cent of the general population. Many of our rural women struggle to access pre and post-natal care, with rural midwifery services continuing to be cut. Women continue to earn roughly 90 per cent of their male counterparts and for Māori and Pacific women that percentage is even lower. Gender identity, gender expression and sexual characteristics are still not prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993.  Only 17 per cent of directors on NZX publicly-listed company boards are women.

However, in just three plane rides (and many movies later) I am lucky enough to spend the next three weeks with six inspiring young wāhine attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women conference (CSW62). We get the privilege to discuss these facts – these successes, failures and opportunities for our communities (both local and international) to strive for better when it comes to gender equality.

The ideas

As I embark on this adventure, I have all these facts and statistics floating around my head. I’m proud of the successes our small nation at the bottom of the world has achieved to empower and advance the equality of women. Yet, I’m also conscious and disappointed with how much mahi there is still left to do.

As you can probably tell from my chosen statistics above, I’m a lawyer and passionate about how the law affects women, both inside and outside the profession. I am aware that I hold a lot of privilege in this world: I’m an able-bodied, cis, heterosexual, educated, middle-class Pākeha woman from Aotearoa. Yet, throughout my life I have been struck by the injustice that so many people face because of the law.

The legal system is so often seen as a barrier, which re-victimises, excludes and discriminates so many people in our society. In anticipation of attending CSW62, I am looking forward to seeing how the law can be used as a tool for change and to empower all women. I am hopeful (perhaps naively) that international law and fora such as the United Nations can be part of this change at some level. I am eager to see how Aotearoa can learn from other countries to make more of our failures success stories.

The people

The facts I identified above are more than just statistics. They are the lived experiences of many women and they effect how we as a country view the role of women more broadly.

As I am about to enter the largest bureaucracy I have ever experienced, I am conscious of the need for us to share our stories and the stories of those around us. We need to listen and respond to the experiences of women, not just improve the facts on paper or reach agreement to achieve equality in name only.

I am looking forward to seeing how we can take these statistics, good and bad, and create change for real people in their everyday lives.

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on March 7, 2018 and filed under CSW62 2018.