In 2010 I decided that I should get involved in the National Council of Women. To me it was a somewhat shadowy organisation, with a mandate I didn't understand, which occasionally popped up with submissions to Select Committees or media statements which I either agreed with or was strongly concerned by. One such example of the latter was NCWNZ submitting in favour of the 90 day legislation for employment, on the basis that it would be good for women. My experience and observation is that those who face discrimination in the workplace already, as women do, are usually made more vulnerable by losing rights, not less so. But anyway...
A couple of months ago QoT wrote about the NCWNZ support for the Who Needs Feminism campaign, and expressed her concerns about the level of feminist analysis NCWNZ was (or rather wasn't) undertaking. While I agree with some of the points The Thorny One made, we are not in total agreement - which is not unusual ;-) - and it has been very interesting to become more involved in NCWNZ over the last two years and learn about why it is the way it is, and how it is changing.
This weekend I have been in Dunedin for the biennial conference of NCWNZ. It's an organisation established in 1896, and I see it as much like the game of cricket - highly evolved rules and customs which had reasons and made sense to insiders for a long time, but some of those reasons are lost in the mists of time, so it's hard for current participants to understand the relevance of positions such as Silly Mid Off. There have certainly been Silly Mid Off moments for me during the conference.
But putting that to one side, I do see some significant value in NCWNZ, to the point where I am becoming more involved, not less, despite some frustrations. Partly this is because I think it's important to have feminist voices (in particular those who aren't first or second wave), and a diversity of life experiences, active in NCWNZ, and that that is part of the evolution of the organisation which won't happen if it is abandoned by progressive people.
Which is not to say that most of those currently involved are not progressive. I am constantly amazed by the staunch advocacy for women that fellow members will articulately share in branch meetings, online and now on the floor of the conference. Some base their advocacy on the idea that women are mothers first and foremost, and thus what happens for children is of supreme importance, and that really grates for me, but often we find ourselves in agreement, albeit for quite different reasons.
At a recent branch meeting we had a ripper of a debate about marriage equality. Yes I would have prefered we had been in agreement, but it was heartening to see so many wonderful arguments for marriage equality put up by women who were in the demographic that the polling shows us is most likely to be opposed to Louisa Wall's bill. In the end we decided not to take a branch position, which was disappointing to me.
The highlight of the weekend for me, in regard to the democratic aspects, has been the vote to support a remit on making contraception available to all women for free. This includes both the actual contraception (pill, condom, IUD, implant, etc) and the consultation fee. Currently there is a confusing array of free access for certain circumstances, especially those under 25. However there is undoubtedly a need to widen this, as I argued in my 2010 presentation on why abortion needs to be legal. The motion was put up by the Manawatu branch, seconded by ALRANZ (whose president Morgan Healey spoke very well to the motion) and I appreciated having the opportunity to speak to it too. When I tweeted (@juliefairey) about the passing of this remit I was quite surprised at the positive responses from many people glad to see NCWNZ stand up on this issue.
The conference has been an interesting experience, for a variety of somewhat unexpected reasons. The guest speakers and panel discussions have been very valuable; as I type there is a fantastic keynote being given on the issue of how family trusts undermine social justice, particularly as that impacts on women. "Women and Work: No Barriers" is the theme of the conference, and there have been a lot of discussions that show a very wide definition of "work" amongst the delegates, including a focus on the need to recognise the unpaid work that so often falls to women. I've also met some fascinating women through my involvement in Auckland branch, and added to that number at the conference. In particular, I greatly value the perspective of older women that I can access readily through NCWNZ, and which is absent from much public dialogue and not prevalent in my own personal circles.
I'm involved because I think there is a role for an umbrella body, a peak organisation, for women's organisations (and the women's sectors/networks/etcs of other organisations), and because I want to help to shape the future of NCWNZ as it evolves. If you are interested in getting involved too, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate the entry points, so I'm more than happy to assist, and can be emailed on julie dot fairey at g mail dot com.