Sasha Borissenko: It’s 2021, but women are still being shortchanged

International Women’s Day is a wonderful chance to shed light on the struggles facing women; for male “feminist heroes” to get a bit of publicity via social media; and for sexists to rear their ugly heads.

I personally find it hilarious when people scream bloody murder over the fact there isn’t a dedicated day reserved for men. Why? Because, there is – it’s Friday 19 November.

Nevertheless, let’s look at the legislative framework that’s aimed at promoting the fiscal and health interests of women:

Health

This month will see the first reading of Louisa Wall’s member’s bill, the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill 2020.

It reads: “Protests at and around abortion clinics are commonplace in New Zealand. These protests amount to targeted harassment of those people who choose to access essential health services. No other group is subjected to protest simply for going to their doctor, nor should these people be.”

The bill provides a regulation-making power to set up safe areas around specific abortion facilities, on a case-by-case basis. Its purpose is to protect the safety and wellbeing, and respect the privacy and dignity, of women accessing abortion services.

The bill has not been without its issues. In February Attorney General David Parker found clause 5 of the bill – which criminalises communicating in a manner that is objectively emotionally distressing within safe areas – to be inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression pursuant to the Bill of Rights Act.

He said if the bill substituted a narrower definition of the “prohibited behaviour” to include intimidation or an intention to cause harm, then it would be deemed to be consistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

ALRANZ Abortion Rights Aotearoa took issue with the process of defining a safe area. President Terry Bellamak said: “to create one safe area you need an order in council on the recommendation of Cabinet’s two busiest ministers in consultation with each other”.

“The government should be trying to prevent harm from occurring, not waiting for people to be inevitably harmed before addressing the issue.” The bill was supposed to be aired last week, but it has since been pushed back, like many issues addressing the subjugation of women.

On a positive health-related note, all primary, intermediate, secondary school, and kura students will have access to free period products from June. The move follows the Access to Period Products pilot programme, which kicked off in the Waikato region last year. Around 3,200 young people were provided with said items during the pilot.

For all of the oldies who aren’t at school, we’ll have to continue to pay a pink tax on sanitary items, and purchase the cheaper “blue” over “pink” shavers and deodorant at the supermarket.

Money

Changes to New Zealand’s Equal Pay Act came into force late last year, which aimed at creating an accessible process to work through pay equity claims. The new process aligns with the bargaining process in the Employment Relations Act 2000, and aims to curtail and reduce the need to go through the Employment Court.

At the time there were more than 86,000 employees in female-dominated occupations progressing 15 pay equity claims in the New Zealand courts. According to government figures, pay equity settlements have seen up to 30 per cent pay increases for claimants.

In the context of the gender pay gap – the gap between men’s and women’s hourly pay – it is currently 9.5 per cent. Ministry for Women figures suggest male professionals earn an average of $38.92 an hour, while women professionals earn $31.23. Male managers earn an average of $35.29 an hour, while women managers earn an average of $25.57.

What can you do about it? Interestingly the Ministry for Women website essentially suggests individuals choose or change careers; apply for alternative work; abstain from having children if they wish to avoid a “motherhood penalty”; or otherwise work in the public services. I’ve taken a creative licence with these options but it all seems hopeless. Moving on.

Leadership

According to a Ministry for Women quarterly update dating back to June 2020, there were 1340 women and 1339 men appointed to boards. This was a great win for then-Women Minister Julie Anne Genter, but then the election happened and she was stripped of her portfolio. I, like the rest of New Zealand, don’t know who Jan Tinetti is, but I wish her all the best.

In a legal context, the Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union released its annual employment information report last week. The survey was sent to all of the 600-odd union members last year and it received 245 responses.

Across all workplaces, there was minimal gender difference in job satisfaction, culture satisfaction, feelings of value, work hour satisfaction, and the likelihood of recommending the job to others.

At larger-sized firms, men rated pay satisfaction 0.36 out of five points lower than women. Men tended to rate employers higher than women across the majority of factors in medium-sized firms, and women fared much better across the board at smaller firms. Women respondents rated on average a four out of five stars when it came to feeling valued, for example.

It’s of no surprise that respondents gave higher ratings across the board in the context of working in the public service and NGOs, in contrast to working in private firms. What does this tell us? Again, change jobs, don’t have kids, and try to work for the government.

There you have it, another year, another 9.5 cents shortchanged.

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