Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the government’s hostility towards women

August 11th, 2010

Once again, the Key government has shown it doesn’t give a stuff about issues that primarily affect women. Cabinet has rejected an official recommendation to compensate the victims of a rape culture that existed within the Police It has also shown no interest in taking action to address gender pay inequities. In addition, its welfare working group has stigmatized women on the DPB despite the fact that most women are on this benefit for a relatively short time.

The welfare working group appears to believe that being on this benefit is (a) a career choice (b) that plenty of jobs exist in the economy for such women to go out and find(c) the care of children isn’t a socially worthwhile job and (d) good childcare is readily available and affordable in our provincial towns and urban centres. To date, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has shown no interest in making firms – or even state agencies – live up to their obligations under the Equal Pay Act, which was passed nearly 40 years ago.

To many though, the decision to reject the rape compensation will be particularly galling. Barely a fortnight after Police Minister Judith Collins blamed the media for the growing lack of respect for the Police among the public, Cabinet has decided to abandon a group of vulnerable women that Police officers had preyed upon. According to Attorney- General Finlayson, there is no legal basis for such a payment. Well, duh. That’s why the forum set up by the Clark government to liaise with the victims had recommended to government that an ‘ex gratia’ payment should be made, given the circumstances. That’s what ex gratia payments are. They are made when no official avenue exists to address a clear moral obligation. Does Finlayson think a moral obligation exists in this case – yes or no?

Apparently not. In a letter to the 10 women at the core of the inquiry, Solicitor-General David Collins, acknowledged the lifelong impact of their abuse, but then added :

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson and the Cabinet had “seriously considered” reparation but decided against it because they believed it was not clear that it was the Government’s responsibility or duty, Dr Collins said. “I know this decision will be disappointing. I hope that the opportunity to tell your story and be referred to additional services has been helpful,” he said.

So Finlayson believes the legal position is ‘not clear’? Wow, what a weasel term. Surely, isn’t providing legal clarity supposed to be his job? Moreover, while the government via its Police Minister blames the media for telling the public about Police misconduct (and thus lowering our esteem for the Police) its own Solicitor-General is willing to cite ‘telling your story” to the media as one way that the victims have been enabled to regain their self esteem. Thus helping get the government off the hook for paying compensation.

Talk about gutless. Evidently, the fear in Cabinet was that payment would create a precedent for the hundreds of women who might otherwise qualify for similar compensation, for similar treatment by the Police. Finlayson talked (just before 9am today) on Morning Report of the “floodgate’ consequences of such a course of action.

Dismayingly, the same pattern is evident in our foreign policy as well. Thanks to Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, our aid programme has been directed towards economic development – and away from poverty relief. As a result, the Women’s Centre in Luganville, Vanuatu may now have to close. Until recently, New Zealand has co-funded the centre’s work in tandem with Australia, to the tune of $US100,000 a year. According to RNZ Pacific News this morning, the centre’s advocacy work is recognized as offering effective and essential help to women and children in rural areas in particular,who have been the victims of sexual violence.

According to NZ diplomat in Vila Sarah Carley, we are now talking to the Australians, to see if they will fill the funding gap we have created.“We can’t continue funding every activity that we’ve ever funded. So it’s a natural progression. We don’t want to leave them in the lurch, because they are providing a valuable service and we don’t want to see any risk to that.” Except of course, when Murray McCully chooses to create such risks.

Quite a contrast, isn’t it? Only last week, John Key was swanning around at the Pacific Forum in Vanuatu and inviting Pacific leaders to hold their next conference in Auckland, at the very same time his government is cutting essential aid support for the women and children of Vanuatu. If Key simply re-directed the money he is planning to spend on taking Pacific leaders to Rugby World Cup games, the Women’s Centre in Vanuatu would probably get the funds it needs to survive. But then, I’m sure Chris Finlayson could be wheeled out to say that this government has even less legal responsibility to the victims of rape in the Pacific than it has for the victims of Police rape in New Zealand.

Ever since the Rogernomics period, conservative governments have struggled to win votes from women. The gender gap was decisive in the 2005 election – and John Key’s charm has hitherto taken the edge off this government’s hardline policies.

No longer. By next election, the GST hikes, the tax breaks for the rich, the childcare subsidy reductions, the disdain for women on the DPB – many of whom are caring for children as the result of marital breakdown – the contempt for gender pay equity etc etc. should make this a potent line of attack for the Opposition. On the evidence, this government hates women. Surely even Phil Goff can make that accusation stick.

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    1. 16 Responses to “On the government’s hostility towards women”

    2. By Maria on Aug 11, 2010 | Reply

      Thankyou Gordon.

      The sexism in NZ and around the world often leaves me in tears and quite distraught. Many women I know just completely shut it out as they can’t cope with it. So it helps restore my faith when I read articles like this one.

      Labour are not perfect but there are clear differences in their attitude and treatment of women here in NZ.

      And there is not much money right now unless you are a banker, Tony Blair or Bill Clinton ( who have multimillion dollar incomes from where?) but surely the little we have should be fairly shared with mothers who have engaged in the now viewed as disgusting bludger type act of bearing and caring for children.

    3. By Margaret on Aug 11, 2010 | Reply

      You forgot to mention the ACC clinical pathway for sexual abuse counselling. A few women are a little steamed about that one too!

    4. By Kay on Aug 11, 2010 | Reply

      Great start Gordon. Don’t forget the cuts to early childhood education services, dropping to 80% funding next year. The cuts to public service jobs have predominantly affected women. The increase in GST will affect low wage workers most, more of them women than men. Government infrastructure investment focusses on roads and construction, more jobs for the men not the women. Any encouragement for girls to train for trades other than hairdressing? What do you think?

    5. By T on Aug 11, 2010 | Reply

      I thought I was the only one who saw it. It seems every time I turn on the news the government is doing something new to discriminate against women.

      If the news polls are to be believed then we should be worried about how conservative and anti-woman NZ is becoming.

    6. By Elyse on Aug 12, 2010 | Reply

      The denigration of DPB recipients has been going on since the 70′s. What critics fail to see is that it’s an investment in our children.
      I’m surprised to see your reference to John Key’s “charm” without the word “alleged”.I never saw it myself. Having fled the Bush years in the USA I thought Kiwis were electing their very own “W”, having sneered at Americans for doing so.
      and speaking of sexism, how about the criticism Helen Clark suffered for not having children?

    7. By Rose on Aug 12, 2010 | Reply

      Remember that more that 50% of voters are women, so no political party would pick on child-bearing women if they didn’t think at least some women would approve of that…and they do. Thankfully my children are school-age now and I seem to have rejoined the human race, but I well remember what it was like to be pregnant and/or accompanied by preschoolers, and how many older women, particularly the postmenopausal age set, treated me like dirt. I don’t know why older women are like that and I don’t know if it is a New Zealand thing or worldwide, but it is very real. Second after older women, for being rude to ‘breeding women’ are young women, then old men, then middle-aged men. The only people who treat a pregnant woman, or one with small children, with courtesy are some of the middle-aged men and most of the young men. Go figure.

    8. By Meghan on Aug 12, 2010 | Reply

      Fantastic report, Gordon. You are a journalist of great merit to the NZ media, and I will keep reading your work.

      This issue in particular strikes home for me – as a young mother with an under five in daycare, and a university student this Government seems to be doing everything it can to make my life more challenging.

    9. By Gabrielle McClean on Aug 12, 2010 | Reply

      Thanks for noticing. Further, woman on the DPB are now not able to homeschool their children and receive the benefit.

    10. By Kerry on Aug 12, 2010 | Reply

      Well said, Gordon.

      I heartily endorse all that previous commenters have written.

      Rose, yes I too have experienced the scornful looks of women ‘of a certain age’ who saw me scuffing around town in casual clothes with two toddlers and a primary-school aged child in tow. When I tried to get employment, it was those same women (15-20 years my senior) who were gatekeeping jobs, and preferring women of their ‘own sort’ when weeding out interviewees. Indeed, while men can be pigs, some women are doing their best to make life difficult for their younger ‘sisters’.
      But at the same time, I was a scarce and valuable commodity at my children’s primary school, where the need for parents to volunteer on school outings is still there, but the supply has dried up drastically. I chose to value the input I could make as an unpaid volunteer, and kept that attitude alive when my children were older & I had time to put into volunteer work for many different organisations.

      Key’s policy people could do with re-reading Marilyn Waring’s “Counting for Nothing”, which evaluated the worth of women’s unpaid labour to our national GDP, and suggested a return to a ‘household wage’ for parents who were caring for small children or elderly invalids, as a notional acceptance of the worth of the unpaid work they engaged in.
      We are rapidly approaching a time when all available eldercare facilities will be overfull, and more ‘boomers’ will need care that is not available. How many of their overworked and deeply indebted offspring will be able to afford to quit a job and do full daycare of mum or dad? Not many, I’d wager.
      So we’ll have a situation where the State has enacted policy which is very detrimental to the ability of an humane society to care for it’s infirm elderly, much in the same way that current law surrounding childcare makes it difficult for all those who need care of preschoolers to get it. And undermines women’s employment opportunities on its way, as a (somewhat) unintended consequence.
      [I say 'somewhat' cynically, as it has always been the way to regard women as a 'surplus' labourforce to be used when needed & then discarded when the employment market is tight.]

    11. By Sal on Aug 12, 2010 | Reply

      @Rose
      Don’t tar all older women with the same brush. As an older, single woman I look at the young ones with their kiddies in tow and admire them for their fortitude and commitment. Let me assure you that a woman who doesn’t marry is often treated with the most contempt of all – and it is sometimes one’s own sex who are the worst.

      It has always been my experience that National governments don’t really recognise the unmarried female status at all. Witness their parliamentary caucus past and present. Only once that I recall did they have an unmarried woman and that was Marilyn Waring. Look how she was eventually treated.

    12. By Rose on Aug 13, 2010 | Reply

      Sal, you are right, I was generalizing. Some older women were kind and helpful. I can believe that unmarried women get treated badly, too.
      Thanks Kerry! If you want to go worse that a “scornful look” try having three small children in tow and being visibly pregnant… I got a hate stare! I confess I just gave the hate starer a big grin and thought to myself “I have a PhD, and I’ll bet you don’t…”

    13. By Maurice on Aug 14, 2010 | Reply

      Well summarised and a good piece of journalism. Equality is good for all and quite frankly I find what this government has been doing quite depressing. Lets make sure national doesn’t get another shot after the next election.

    14. By Jum on Aug 14, 2010 | Reply

      And now we have drivelling idiots like Hopkins telling New Zealanders to breed more babies to be forced to grow up in this misogynistic, greed driven country run by a white male moneytrader.

      Why would women have babies when the career is so scorned with no monetary value and therefore no say in policy making and only socially acceptable if women are in a man-woman partnership with the man as controller.

      Still at least we have more women waking up to the unpalatable truth that maybe some men do not want them to have an equal voice or equal pay or even equal safety.

      Sadly, it took Gordon, a man, to publicise this. All our female journalists are hell-bent on stabbing women in the back. The media attacks on Helen Clark throughout her time in politics were testament to the venom which exists in the psyche of women as well as men. The women who have been and are responsible for repressing women’s voice in New Zealand out of self-hatred, religious extremism, fear or a belief that women are not as good as men are in positions of influence in the media and government and must be held equally responsible when the results of this government’s policies prove to be damaging to the rights and equal futures for our girl children and by association the rights and the freedom from role-play of our boy children.

      As for voluntary work, why would you when this government uses voluntary labour to cut costs yet pays out huge sums of money to business lobbyists while putting in place legislation which allows business to treat workers like shxt.
      Lowering taxes allows this government to reduce financial support in health, welfare, etc and to introduce stealth privatisation (PPP), and user pays which only those in well-paid work can afford.
      Lowering tax take is the worst thing they could do but is in line with their agenda to privatise all government functions and create a desperate poor. Those at the very bottom of course are women and those who will suffer most are of course children.

      I did voluntary work when Labour was in Government because their work in finding people real jobs with a fair steadily increasing wage was using our tax money in a humane way. Despite the lies which this government has been perpetuating (Crosby Textor repetitive lying eventually brainwashes people into believing the lie) the truth of our workers’ loss of rights and freedoms is now being uncovered.
      Women for the sake of our future fair and equal society must once again fight.

    15. By Kerry on Aug 16, 2010 | Reply

      @Rose – yes, while I was studying, with kids going to afterschool-care, I frequently found myself muttering “at least I’m getting another degree, not just sitting on the couch watching daytime TV” as someone sniffed at my scruffy appearance in town.
      Also had to deal with well-meaning but deluded rellies who advised me that “just getting a little job in a shop would tide me over until the kids got older” – they had no experience of employers who carefully manage the casual roster so that nobody gets full-time hours, holiday pay or sick leave….

      @Jum – good points, I especially agree with you about the way Crosby-Textor are the hand inside the glove-puppet of the National policy machine.

    16. By Rose on Aug 19, 2010 | Reply

      Kerry and Jum have confirmed my impression that a lot of women are hostile to women, and extended the influence of those women. I thought it was just voters. Now I realize it is employers, media and government as well.
      It is baffling to me that the first country to give women the vote, not to mention a country that was kept going by women during WWI when a huge proportion of the male population was overseas at war, remains so misogynistic. I believe that good mothers are the one of the most important assets a country can have. Why does NZ hate mothers, and motherhood, so much…while at the same time reviling single women and childless women ?

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