Minister of Women’s Affairs, Hon Pansy Wong, came to Christchurch yesterday as part of the Women’s Suffrage celebrations and her address was certainly more polished than her performances in the House. However there was an elephant in the room and no-one was prepared to say it to her face – although there were plenty of mutterings and asides behind her back. It’s all very well for the Minister to say she is increasing funding to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to research ways to cut the stubborn pay gap which now sits at 12%, when her colleague the Minister of Labour has reduced funding in her department by about three times that amount, cancelling the Pay & Employment Equity investigations that were being conducted in the public sector and shutting down the unit that has been doing this work.
The same point can be made about the Minister of Social Development & Employment’s decision to restrict the Training Incentive Allowance for people trying to get a higher education to get off the DPB, Invalid’s or Widow’s Benefit. This decision only allows access to the TIA for Level 1-3 courses – in other words foundation courses; cutting out level 4-6 diplomas and all degree courses at level 7 (things like nursing, teaching, social work, midwifery, law…). If she wants to do something about the stubborn pay gap, why doesn’t she read the evaluation of the TIA, which shows how successful it has been to get people into well-paid careers and off the benefit? If she wants to do something about the stubborn pay gap, why is she not insisting that the government develop specific policies to address the greater impact the recession is having on women’s employment opportunities given that two out of every three people being made redundant are women?
The Minister also spoke about women on boards, talking about the intiative to make the business case to increase diversity on boards; and she also highlighted the need to respond to domestic and sexual violence. The government seems to have adopted the line that if there is anything positive Labour started, they should take all the credit, and if something has been unsuccessful or facing challenges, then Labour should be given all the blame. These three areas of work were initiated and advanced under Labour. When I was Minister of Women’s Affairs I met with Catalyst in New York to hear first hand about the work they were doing on the business case around women on boards. I was the one who initiated discussions with business to find out why they were not appointing women to their boards. Unlike this Minister I invited women MPs from all sides of the House to briefings about issues like the importance of the Ministry’s Nominations Service and to events that celebrated women’s achievements.
The Labour led government established cross party talks on family violence (which National pulled out of) and yet National has not continued these in government. I was also the Minister that instigated the work that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been doing on sexual violence and yet there was no recognition of that in the Minister’s comments. I publicly congratulated her on the blending of the combined weight of her portfolios – Women’s Affairs and Ethnic Affairs – to study the very sensitive and pressing issue of intimate partner violence and ethnic women. And if we are the government that implements the results of that study then her work will be acknowledged.
I am really saddened by the undermining of opportunities for women this Minister is prepared to condone by turning a blind eye to what her colleagues are doing; and as for her approach to the achievements of successive Labour governments, it is nothing short of petty.