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How Much More Do They Want? Kate Davenport QC *

Friday 8 March 2019 was International Women’s Day (#WomensDay). It was also the day that we held the valedictory sitting for the first woman Chief Justice of New Zealand, who had the distinction of being one of the first two women QCs appointed in our country. It was particularly in keeping with International Women’s day that all three counsel who addressed the Court were women, of whom I was one. The other two women were our first woman Solicitor-General, Una Jagose QC and Kathryn Beck, the President of the New Zealand Law Society. I found this deeply empowering and it led me to reflect on how far we have come as women in New Zealand.

The gender gap is in fact alive and extremely (un)healthy:

But is it far enough? International Women’s Day was recognised by the United Nations in 1975 as a day dedicated to the rights of women, although some countries have had a women’s day since the early 1900s and some even celebrate it as a public holiday. The theme for 2019 was Think equal, build smart, innovate for change (#BalanceforBetter). It looked at innovative ways for advancing gender equity particularly in social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. In New Zealand, many argue that women have equality and that this day is no longer necessary. We have all heard the question asked: how much more can woman possibly want or need? At first glance the question is not unreasonable. We are ranked 7th in 2018 figures on closure of the gender gap1, indicating that we have closed 80% of the gap. This is the first time we have entered the top ten countries. It is, however, mostly due to an improvement on the Political Empowerment Index, with more women in Parliament, so we cannot be complacent about the gap in other areas of our lives.

Based on current trajectories, existing interventions will not suffice to achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030.2

The gap alters according to economic status, ethnic origin, education, ability and age.3 While younger, highly educated Pakeha women might feel they have parity, this experience changes for many of those who fall outside this category. A recent report revealed that Pacific women working in the public service earned on average 21 per cent less than the mean wage for all employees.4

Political empowerment is the biggest area in terms of the gender gap. There are seven countries that have closed 50% of their gap – and New Zealand is not one of them.5 We remain at 47% despite the improvement resulting from more women in Parliament.

In terms of leadership positions, the higher women climb, the more biases, challenges and stereotypes they face.6

The economic participation and opportunity gap for New Zealand is 76%. We are ranked number 23, notwithstanding our educational attainment level is 100%.7

World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2018 (Geneva 2018) p7. (accessed 4 March 2019) Enabling women’s potential - the social, economic and ethical imperative: A White Paper from the National Council of Women of New Zealand (2015) (accessed 8 March 2019) 4 (accessed 29 March 2019) 5 Above at n1, p8 6 World Economic Forum, From glass ceiling to glass cliff: women are not a leadership quick-fix (accessed 8 March 2019) 7 Above at n1, p13. 1 2 3


Profile for New Zealand Bar Association

At the Bar April 2019