I was asked to speak on a panel of “Inspiring Women” with MPs Jenny Salesa and Mojo Mather (no pressure!) at the PPTA Conference on 4 March, on the topic of “the challenges for women in 2017”. Here’s my speaking notes, which are probably a lot clearer than what I managed to burble out live!
There are a lot of challenges for women in 2017. There’s the issues which get boxed away as “women’s issues” like equal pay, and there’s so many issues which disproportionately affect women, which we don’t always acknowledge, like poverty, and housing, and childcare, and the population getting older. There’s the big orange elephant in the room, because right wing authoritarianism as embodied by Donald Trump is going to be terrible for women, not just in the United States.
But across all of this, the huge challenge is keeping up hope when there’s so many battles to fight. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that we can’t do it all and it’s not going to be fixed overnight.
That’s an area where I think everyone here can take a lot of comfort. Because you’re doing your bit every day. Education is fundamental to progress and social change
People – usually right-wing people – try to act like education is just about facts and figures and career-focused skill development, but we all know that it’s a hell of lot more than that, and I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without the education I got, not just from what I learned but because for five years I was taught that educating women is the most important thing you can do to effect social change.
My high school was Baradene College, a Catholic girls’ school in Auckland. It’s part of the Society of the Sacred Heart, which was founded in 1800 by Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, who placed huge importance on educating young women. Baradene emphasised the five Sacred Heart goals, several of which are obviously about God, but goal four is: A social awareness which impels to action.
In those formative years, I wasn’t just learning to read and write and calculate molar masses. I was becoming a member of a society which has values and principles, a citizen who has a duty to think about the world around me and be active in making the it a better place.
So just by working in education, whatever job you do, is tremendous. I’m not going for cheap pop here. The next generation of fighters for social justice who will change the world are being shaped right now in your classrooms. Hell, why do we think the right keep trying to screw the whole system up?
That’s a bit big picture though. I work for a union, and although I can go home every day knowing I’ve done my part for this broad enduring movement of ours, it’s also good to have little concrete things to hold on to. That’s another challenge, doing small things every day to stand up for ourselves and for all the women around us.
I’ve worked in the public service myself. I’ve been to a lot of meetings. I know a lot of us have had the same experiences: men dominating the discussion. Men being presumed to be the experts. Men making suggestions that we just made ten minutes ago but getting all the credit.
“Stop interrupting me.”
“I just said that.”
“No explanation needed.”
Sometimes it’s easier to stand up for other people instead of yourself. When President Obama took office, a lot of the women who came into the White House felt sidelined, or that their contributions weren’t being properly appreciated. So they got together and came up with a strategy of amplification – when one woman made a good suggestion, the next woman would repeat it, and give credit. It’s as simple as saying, “I really liked Jenny’s idea, let’s try that.” or “Mojo made a great point when she said …………….”
We can even flip those ten simple words from Soraya Chemaly around to speak up for each other.
“Stop interrupting her.”
“She just said that.”
“She doesn’t need an explanation.”
We’re union members, so we appreciate the importance of solidarity, and standing together. And even though it feels like such a cliche, getting together with a bunch of women to have a glass of wine and a moan about work or life or living in a patriarchal society can do immense good for your mental health.
These big issues like equal pay and gendered violence and the rise of authoritarianism are going to take a lot of us a long time to overcome, so we have to help each other not burn out.
I’m just going to finish with the scolding heard around the world, when Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced as she tried to read a letter from Coretta Scott King in the US Senate. Justifying why he had blocked Warren from speaking for the rest of the debate, Mitch McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” I think that’s our greatest challenge in 2017: persisting.