This year, on September 23, New Zealand will vote on who gets to lead the country for the next three years. We've watched the unbelievable political events in the US and the UK, and now it's our turn. If there's anything that we can take from the wild currents of world politics it's that young people have to get out there and vote. Because the politicians elected to Parliament are the ones who will make important decisions about our future. But in amongst the spin and the bluster, it can be hard to know exactly who to vote for. Who stands for what? Who stands against what? Who cares about the issues that are important to you?
We get it.
So, in the lead-up to the election, Villainesse has reached out to politicians from all of the parties currently in Parliament, asking them why they think they deserve the vote of young women. In our 2017 election series, 'The Pitch', we've asked politicians to make their case to you so that when you go to the ballot box you'll know exactly where they stand.
Next in the series, we have Golriz Ghahraman, of the Green Party. Here's her pitch to you.
Give us the elevator pitch: Why should young women vote for you?
In a time of empty rhetoric and dangerous populism it’s now more important than ever that young women send a clear message – that we will stand up for our rights, for equality, for inclusion; and that we want politics with substance. I decided to stand this election because I want to see human rights law expertise in my legislators, I want to see politicians with a life-long commitment to these issues, and I want a diverse house of representatives! That’s why young women should vote Green, not for me, but because the Green Party is the party that best reflects these values in NZ politics.
If you are elected, what - if anything - will you do to close the gender pay gap?
Women are consistently under-represented in public life – that is a key issue undermining our democracy. Our representation on boards is abysmal compared to our achievements – especially when you consider that women have overtaken male university graduates in professional fields. Governance bodies, from Parliament down, continue to be dominated by men – this contributes to the constant undervaluing of women in the work force. We’ve seen that formal equality is not enough and so affirmative action is needed to bring women into leadership. But alarmingly, even our anti discrimination laws are not properly enforceable right now; women aren’t even able to access data about the gender pay gap in their employment situation or industry. Jan Logie’s bill on this issue – which was recently voted down by the government – is desperately needed to help women better negotiate their salaries where male counterparts are being treated differently.
What economic benefits will you deliver for young women?
Research shows that young women under invest in their financial future, due to the economic barriers such as the gender pay gap, they face greater challenges in doing so. I really value the Green Party’s ‘Faster into Homes’ policy in this regard because it’s particularly relevant to my generation. It will give people the option of saving for a home deposit by deferring their student loan payments until they have secure housing. This is a tangible and practical policy not just to help young women enter the property market, but to encourage stronger engagement in their financial future.
How will you combat violence against women (including domestic violence)?
I’ve worked for years in the Family Violence Courts both in Auckland and Manukau. At every level, poverty is a huge determining factor when it comes to ongoing violence against women; we simply cannot address this problem without emancipating women financially so they can leave violent relationships. This government cynically pledges their commitment to ending domestic violence while at the same time demonises those accessing the DPB (the one social welfare benefit directly aimed at helping women and children leave violent relationships). Right now, for many women, leaving a violent relationship means living in a car with her babies – and this needs to change.
Domestic (and sexual) violence is a huge entrenched problem in NZ, and the other key root cause is the lack of gender equity more generally. The gender pay gap, our exclusion from leadership roles and our constant objectification in media all contribute to the same problem. We need to recalibrate this, and start with a focus on the way young people view gender roles, in life and relationships. Education first!
From a criminal justice perspective, what we have seen in the specialised courts is that intensive drug and alcohol counselling and anger management programmes do work. The funding for these programmes needs to go beyond the ambulance at the bottom of the hill, which is the criminal justice system.
What will you do to reduce rates of sexual violence and improve the way that the justice system deals with crimes of sexual violence?
I’ve been an elected member of on the Executive of the NZ Criminal Bar Association and represented the Bar in Law Commission consultations on sexual violence procedural reform for the past few years. I’ve also acted as counsel in numerous sexual violence proceedings, so I could talk on this in a lot of detail! One key thing to remember is that the criminal justice system has a very specific and limited purpose: to determine guilt of the accused person in a sound process - this is separate from other societal responses to sexual violence. In any healthy society there are other targeted and appropriately funded mechanisms, like counseling, financial support, broader education, etc. beyond a criminal trial to restore victims and stop violence.
Having worked closely on the ‘Serious Sexual Violence’ pilot courts (started in January 2017), I can say the initiative seems to focus predominantly on expediting proceedings.
One practical solution we did recommend in the consultation was to provide fee expert legal advice for victims at the point of complaint. They currently have no legal representation or advice until shortly before the trial, in contrast to defendants. An example of how this would help victims navigate the system, is the issue of evidence relating to past sexual history of the victim. This hasn’t been admissible in NZ courts since the 1980s, except if the victim lies about it in her initial complaint in which case it becomes a credibility issue. So when support services, not experts in the law, tell women their past history may come up, they actually make it more likely that women will lie. Unfortunately funding for lawyers for victims was not provided in the pilot programme.
Where do you stand on abortion legislation? Would you like to see it changed? If so, what changes would you make?
The fact that 99 percent of abortions are approved on “mental health” grounds and that rape is not grounds for an abortion reveals the dishonesty of the current legal situation. I want our law to assert the right of women to make decisions about our own health by decriminalising abortion.
How will you ensure that New Zealand’s environment is protected for future generations?
The Green Party is the only party to place climate science at the centre of our environmental policy.
In real terms this means protecting our waterways, our rivers and lakes, from polluters, and from those who see them as a resource to be easily and cheaply exploited, rather than treasured long term.
In your opinion, what is the role of te Tiriti o Waitangi in modern-day Aotearoa?
Te Tititi should be entrenched as our founding constitutional document. But more than that, it is a living document. To me, the special self-governance and rights of Māori as the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand are in fact human rights. I love the amazing results we get when Māori kaupapa and tikanga are kept alive and incorporated into the justice system. One example is our marae-based – Rangatahi – youth courts, where young people and their whānau report that the tikanga-based process engenders feelings of respect and legitimacy of the courts, which in turn makes discussions about accountability for offending and compliance with orders easier. I think this is proof that the key to better outcomes for Māori lies in ongoing incorporation of Treaty principles into modern policy.
Are you concerned about rising levels of inequality in New Zealand? If so, what would you do to close the gap?
No social phenomenon is as comprehensive in its assault on human rights as poverty. It erodes not only economic and social rights like the right to health, adequate housing, and education, but also civil and political rights, whether the right to a fair trial or political participation.
To me, a human rights-based approach to inequality leads to more adequate responses, since it recognises that the right to something like housing, is universal and an obligation of the government to provide – without which our very democracy is unworkable. The sustained attack on the poor waged by the National Party has undermined these rights, and the Kiwi culture of supporting for our most vulnerable. The Green Party stands for those Kiwi values, like justice and inclusion. Having worked in the child rights sector my focus would be on alleviation of child poverty, practical Green polices such as universal primary health care for all children, and the schools programme, would deliver support where it is most needed.
Do you think that New Zealand’s sexuality education system is working? If not, what would you do to change it?
As a starting point, sex and sexuality education must be included in our standard curriculum, which currently doesn’t exist, instead sex ed is provided by private groups selected ad hoc by boards of trustees. Much of this is abstinence based and contributes to spread of misinformation. We need standardised and reliable sex education programme provided to every school by the state. More than that, sex education should be holistic and focus on sex, sexuality, and address issues around forming positive intimate relationships.
What will you do to combat New Zealand’s high rate of youth suicide?
NZ’s alarming youth suicide rate has been repeatedly raised as a concern by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as it was last year when I was involved in the reporting. Particularly vulnerable groups are the Rainbow community, Māori and Pasifika young people. These groups need tailor-made solutions.
As a first and urgent step, we need to properly fund public mental health services and ensure young people can easily access these services.
Social connectedness and a sense that their life goals are achievable is key to good mental health for young people. Combatting inequality and empowering young people to take part in the world around them has to be part of an ongoing solution. Young people need to be included in formulating our response to their needs, that is in itself a right we are constantly breaching.
Last chance: Is there anything else you’d like to say to young female voters?
I would ask young women what they would like to say to me, as a would-be politician and their representative in our highest governance body. I would ask young women to tell me what concerns them about the world around us, the hopes and dreams they hold dear, and the challenges that most stand in their way. It’s only through that conversation - where our voices are often excluded - that we will begin to change our world. That’s my vision, as a child asylum seeker, a human rights lawyer and activist; that we make our voices heard and influence the decisions that really affect us.Support Villainesse