Monday 8 March 2010

IWD discussion: Bronwen Beechey

Bronwen Beechey
member of the UNITYblog editorial board

1. What (if anything) does International Women’s Day mean to you?

For me, as a socialist and a feminist International Women’s Day has a lot of significance. It was socialist women who first proposed the idea of an international day of action for women’s rights and continued to keep it alive, until the “second wave” of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s revived it. The women’s liberation movement was largely responsible for giving thousands of women (including me) the desire and confidence to struggle for equality for women and a better world for all.

International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate the acheivements of women, to honour their often overlooked contribution to the struggle for worker’s rights, peace and civil liberties, and to protest the injustices that still exist. But we need to make sure that these issues don’t just get token attention on March 8, then get ignored the rest of the year.

2. Is there a feminist or women’s movement in Aotearoa New Zealand? If not why not? If so, what is it doing?

The feminist movement still exists today, although considerably diminished. There is general (though not complete) acceptance in society that women have the right to work outside the home, to control their fertility and to live free from violence. But despite the efforts of the mass media to convince us that we live in a “post-feminist” era, the reality is that women are still not equal.

While NZ women have a high rate of participation in the labour force, they are still concentrated in the lower-paid occupations and still carry out the majority of unpaid work in the home. Women are more likely to be subjected to rape and domestic abuse, and it’s probably in this area that the organised feminist movement has been most visible. Campaigns such as the one in support of Louise Nicholas and other women sexually abused by police have been successful in highlighting the issue, and countering sexist myths about women “asking for it”.

3. What are the biggest issues and challenges facing women and feminism in Aotearoa New Zealand today?

For women on low incomes who are already struggling with rising unemployment, low wages and high accomodation costs, the decision by the National government to raise GST will make life even harder. There is a real need for feminists to take up the real issue of economic inequality, as well as supporting campaigns that aim to improve the living standards of working people generally. There are also going to be attempts to cut back the already inadequate funding for women’s services – the attempts by ACC to cut funding for sexual abuse counselling is just the beginning. We need to build a strong, independent women’s movement as part of the global struggle for justice and the survival of our planet.

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