Friday, 19 September 2008

That Bothersome Business of Equality

Over at No Minister Psycho Milt laments a Third of women still believe they don't have equal rights in New Zealand (interestingly 16 per cent of men believed that women did not have equal rights either). He believes that the respondents didn't definition of rights, or just that the respondents who did not believe equality had been achieved in New Zealand were, in his words, just into 'special pleading.'

Homepaddock touched briefly on the reason for this perception gap, formal versus substantive equality. I suppose today is a good day to reflect on the differences between the two types of equality given that today New Zealand women achieved a formal right to vote. However it wasn't until 1919 that New Zealand women were eligible to stand for election to parliament. So the question of the day is when democratic equality for New Zealand was been achieved if in indeed it has been achieved at all?

Those who believe in formal equality might say it was 115 years ago today or maybe when right to stand for parliament was enshrined in which case the date pushes out to 1919. Some who believe in substantive equality might say 1933 was a watershed day as a woman stood in our house of representatives as an elected member, or perhaps the day the first woman took her seat in Cabinet or became Prime Minister.

But in general most who believe in substantive equality would point out that 75 years after the first woman took her seat in parliament, the proportion of numbers hasn't increased to a point where we can say New Zealand has achieved substantive democratic equality when there are only 40 women MPs elected to our parliament out of a total of 122 seats and 7 female cabinet ministers of which only 2 made it on to the front bench.

So in answer to Milt's question, even in the case of democracy where New Zealand women have had formal rights to vote stand for parliament enshrined for decades the question of whether we have achieved 'equal rights' is still very much up for debate and very much coloured by individual ideology.

17 comments:

Deborah said...

The subbing on that story is interesting - third of women still believe they don't have equal rights. "Still" is related to women's beliefs, not to equal rights. In other words, silly women, having the wrong beliefs.

It should be written, "Third of women believe they still don't have equal rights."

I'd like to think it wasn't deliberate.

Carol said...

The article and the survey tend to assume that the current system is fine but that it’s a question or not of whether women have achieved equality within it. Basically, it’s a very liberal feminist position. It’s a system that has a career structure (inside and outside politics) still largely based on a traditional masculine ideal: individualistic, competitive etc. It’s a struggle for women with children to work within it.

Some women thrive on that individualistic, competitive world, but large numbers don’t - and some men are not keen on it either.


PS; enjoyed the thought-provoking debate last night. Thanks for organising it, Julie and others at the handmirror. I thought it went very well.

Hugh said...

If our focus should be on substantive rather than formal rights, why are we commemorating the anniversary of suffrage being achieved?

Idiot/Savant said...

Hugh: Because while only formal, it is still important - notably, as the tool by which substantive equality can be won.

Idiot/Savant said...

I think the Human Rights Commission's Census of Women's Participation [PDF] shows that those women doubting equality are largely correct.

homepaddock said...

There is a difference between equal rights and equality.

We are all equal under the law so we have equal rights but that by itself won't result in equality.

The number of women in parliament isn't a measure of equal rights - we have the right to be there.

Numbers themselves may not be a measure of equality either - are more women not there because we choose not to be or because we find it harder to be there than men?

If it's the latter is that a reflection of lack of equality or the choices women make?

The ex-expat said...

We are all equal under the law so we have equal rights but that by itself won't result in equality.
You've made the differentiation there is a difference between having formal legal rights (formal equality) and actually enjoying those rights (substantive equality).

The number of women in parliament isn't a measure of equal rights - we have the right to be there.
That is a valid opinion to hold but I think that perhaps you'd agree that there is a vast difference between having the right to be there and actually using those rights.

I think to say that women in New Zealand have enjoyed exactly the same democratic rights in 1919 as they have in 2008 is incorrect if there are other barriers to participation that are discouraging women from using those rights.

Hugh said...

Idiot, it's a tool by which substantive equality may be won, and judging by the grindingly slow speed of equality, perhaps not the best one.

homepaddock said...

"...perhaps you'd agree that there is a vast difference between having the right to be there and actually using those rights."

Yes because of the difference between equal rights and equality.

You can't have equality without equal rights but having equal rights doesn't by itself create equality.

"I think to say that women in New Zealand have enjoyed exactly the same democratic rights in 1919 as they have in 2008 is incorrect if there are other barriers to participation that are discouraging women from using those rights."

I'm not sure if I udnerstand what you're saying here - we have more rights and fewer barriers now but there are still inequalitites.

Psycho Milt said...

I have to say I feel a bit misrepresented here. If you believe "equal rights" and "equality" are the same thing, then I guess you could be forgiven for assuming I think "equality" has been achieved.

But "equal rights" and "equality" are not the same thing. If you think women in NZ lack equal rights with men, you have an extremely difficult case to make. What rights are lacking? There isn't any "right" to a 50% representation in Parliament. If survey authors want to ask people whether there's still inequality, fine - equal rights, though? Did they mistake us for Saudi Arabia or what?

Dave said...

Hugh, the is governments focus is not on equal rights or substantive equality, and anyone who believes it is has their head in the sand.

Take equal pay. The equal employment opportunity approach of eliminating barriers to equal pay is procedural equality, not substantive equality. I support positive freedom and substantive equality - the Governments policy is to do neither, which is why there are no equal rights.

Hugh said...

Dave, I'm sorry but I don't see how what you've said is a response to either of my comments.

ms poinsettia said...

My immediate thought upon reading this on Stuff was 'depends what you mean by equal rights'. I think it's probably either a poor study, or - more likely - a study reported poorly by the media.

I had a similar reaction to Homepaddock - where I thought yes women have equal legal rights but somehow actual equality doesn't follow. I was thinking about how women who allege rape are treated, rather than electoral representations Women may have the legal right to lay complaints, but they are frequently derided, ignored, mocked by both police and society. This seems evidence of an attitudinal thing because while it's still a lot better than it was fifty years ago, some old beliefs about women prop up this tendency to be sceptical of rape allegations.

Of course, touching on what Carol alluded to, there is also the issue of what people want from the term 'equality'. Some people see it as if everyone technically has the same rights and opportunities, then voila 'equality'. But equality doesn't just mean that members of the two genders are treated exactly 'the same', but that women as a marker or class is not socially derided. When I hear rape canards, they remind me how sexist ideas about women and sex still pervade our culture.

I think this study is too poorly worded to be particularly useful, other than for initiating debate:)

Brett Dale said...

I dont see why Gender or race should be an issue in voting, it should be who is bet for the job. Take a look at the states, you have Sarah Palin running for VP and Obama running for President.

If you don't think you have equal rights, please show me some stats and hard data to prove this.

ideologicallyimpure said...

AHAHAHAHAHA Brett thinks Sarah Palin's appointment has nothing to do with gender. My day just got a lot funnier.

glosoli said...

Sarah Palin is about trying to capture the redneck religious right vote. Seems less about her being a woman.

glosoli said...

Maybe capture is the wrong word since who else are they going to vote for, really... More about trying to excite and energate that bloc.