Friday, April 21, 2006

Last week at Womensfest...

I had the pleasure of listening to Kate Sutton speak in the quad last week at Womensfest, a yearly AUSA event organised by our lovely Women's Rights Officer, Allanah Golder.

This speech really spoke to me, as someone who has been criticised for being outspoken and a feminist at high school. It also made me realise that we as women shouldn't be taking our current position in society for granted, as it was fought hard for in a struggle more recently than most realise - there is a risk that our position can just as easily be taken away from us. And the struggle isn't over, as Kate highlights.

I feel honoured to be friends with this awesome gal and fellow feminist :)


Auckland University Students

Kate Sutton

Hello, It’s great to be back after two years, it feels exactly the same. I was invited to speak because I am a successful woman. I must say that this is very flattering, as I do not yet feel successful.

When told this I started to think about what success is – Sure I do many things. I am a former president of this student union, a current University of Auckland councillor, I am the chairperson of the Tamaki community board and I am a project manager for a charitable trust in South Auckland as well as sitting on about 4/5 other boards and committees.

These are all things that I do, I don’t know if they make me successful but I am here anyway to talk about how I got here, how important it is to support one another and where women are at in the 21st century.

I wanted to speak about women overseas and their plight – the feminisation of poverty and how vital it is for us to understand what is happening overseas, the HIV/AIDS epidemic which affects mainly heterosexual females and their children. The trafficking of women from one country to the next because they have no home and their only option is to sell themselves.

Women are the victims war fought by men – women look after the children, keep the household and earn the money while the men are out fighting – it is not an equal or fair world for women overseas in our poorer countries who are raped, mutilated, tortured and without homes – they are victims not perpetrators.

To an audience like this it’s too hard, the issues are too complex and the subject matter to serious for us to listen to on a lovely sunny day in the university quad - it’s best to start here in New Zealand, at home.

The latest Human rights commission census on women tracks women’s participation in major decision making roles in New Zealand – you can ask most women if they are discriminated against and most pakeha women will say no. The problem is that the statistics tell a different story 24.2% of judges, 19.2% of newspaper editors, 17.2% of legal partnerships, 18.9% of mayors are women.

My party, the labour party talks about ‘half now’ and putting women out there yet only 32.2% of MPs are women and 23% of cabinet are women – its disgraceful – there is certainly the ability out there.

41% of state sector statutory bodies are women due mainly to the hard work of the Ministry of Women’s affairs yet only 8% of the NZX market directors are women – our private sector directorship take up is moving at quote the human rights commission ‘ glacial speed’
These statistics are not this way because women do not have the skills its because choices are limited for women in many of these roles and also because the systems that we work within are male dominated systems that are constructed by men.

The Executive director of the business round table Roger Kerr says that the reason why businesses do not take on female directors is because they are conservative – he also made comment that maybe this was not the role of women. My biggest concern about this statement, if we ignore the arrogance of Roger speaking about the ‘role of women’ is that business may see appointing female directors as risky – certainly many women have the skills to be directors and we know that diversity leads to good decision making, but I would have thought that business would be to conservative to take on migrants and refugees, non English speakers and people without formal education– not women – it seems like we have stepped back in time 30 years. To take on women, especially a well educated, pakeha woman is conservative!

I am passionate about good governance and directorship and I am trying to break the mold of these statistics and bring my sisters with me, but it’s a long slow battle.

At this university where many of you feel safe and free from discrimination, the so called ‘critic and conscience of society’ –is one of the worst places that systematically discriminates against women at every level. Why is it that 17% of professors and associate professors are women? But it that over 50% of general staff are women – its because there is still a hierarchy of jobs and there is a still a system where women have choices to move ahead - the boys network still exists in this university and ignores merit and denies women the choice to move forward in their career.

Why was I only the 5th female president out of over 100 presidents at the student union?
You could argue that women are not stupid enough to take up a role that earns only $20,000 per year but the truth is that it’s a boys club.

When I was running for president and throughout my presidency I was called fat, ugly and a slut – why is it that people will not attack my ideas but will readily attack my appearance and what I may or may not do in my private life.

This place is fucking appalling – men tell you what to do, men make you feel bad – men for the benefit of men shape the system. As students we are objectified – I have been one of the people who have made jokes about “easy first years” and I regret that – I did not do the sisterhood any favours. The reason why I made these jokes is because I bowed to covert peer pressure. I picked up on the language and I existed to be liked by men and envied by women but I was never going to be a fuckable first year so I went to student politics and that made me attractive to a whole other group of men – who run the place, who attack me, who judge me on whether they would fuck me or not.

University is a sad story for women and we don’t fight against it because we ignore it or see it as tough luck cause its normal.

Date rape, gang rape, sexual violence are all a norm here – it’s a joke because men make it so and they are the blokes, the boys club and they are putting us down and taking our jobs.

So the stats look bad, the story is still bad - what do we do? You have all taken the right step – being educated is the key – information is power and you are learning the tools to access this power here at university.

We must support our sisters and men must support us – women only got the vote through the help of men who went in and voted for the vote to be ours.

You can support other women into positions of responsibility by helping them out when the going gets tough, voting for them, mentoring them, finding role models in them. You can support women by finding them to give them opportunity – they are out there they just are not as obvious as men because they are off doing other things.

We must encourage a culture of diversity and this starts with accepting women as equal in our society by providing them with equitable opportunity. You have the key and the power to do this with your votes, your support, and your skills. When you become aware of who you are choosing and why then you can consciously offer women their rightful place in society.

The only reason that you are sitting here in the quad if you are women is because women before you fought for your right to be here and men supported them.

You all have an obligation to wake the fuck up and realise how every thing that you have now, all the rights to be free to earn money to marry when you want, to gain an education, to control your sexuality and bear children when you want – all of these rights have been fought for by women and they can be taken away.

A women’s place is in the struggle and we must continue to fight for others who are oppressed as they fought for us, we must take men with us and to do that we must understand what feminism is for this generation – we must act because to continue on without recognising the disadvantages of this system we will not get anywhere.

In solidarity
Kia Kaha


Just to illustrate the anti-feminist backlash, here are some views on this speech:

Ranting on the ROK
The Whig
On the Right
Lindsay Mitchell
David Farrar

And Xavier sticks it to them at Kete Were by writing 'Is that all they could come up with'