Last week, Villainesse caught up with Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter. We wanted to know what work was happening in our government towards issues like pay equity and the welfare reform. Here's what the Minister had to say:
Hello Julie! First of all, can you go into a bit more detail about the Ministry for Women and its priorities as an organisation?
So the Ministry for Women has until now been a policy and advocacy organisation. Unlike other government ministries it doesn’t have responsibility for legislative processes. We keep a lot of data, do qualitative research in particular, and have certain services like the nomination service which can help provide or connect women who are looking for governance positions with governance positions. I’ve said my number one priority is reducing the gender pay gap, starting in the public sector but also with significant progress in the private sector and the wider public sector. We are also having a particular focus on Māori and Pacific women. We do also have a work stream about domestic and sexual violence.
Part of your portfolio is reducing the gender pay gap. What is hindering that kaupapa at the moment? Do you think it’s more societal change or structural change that is needed?
I think that progress was slow in the gender pay gap over the last nine years because the government wasn’t making it a priority. I think that had to be part of it. Also, a lot of progress was made initially and then it just sort of stopped and nothing changed. So I think part of it is societal, because at this point most of the factors are explained. Conscious and unconscious bias. The gender pay gap is far worse for some women. For Māori and Pasifika women, it’s like 22-25% which is far worse than the median which is around 9%. We know that when we start to measure it and we put in place specific plans to close it, a lot of progress can be made really quickly. But there’s been no incentive for organisations to do that, so what we want to do is to provide that incentive. To do it in the public sector, and to do whatever we can to facilitate the private sector doing the same.
How do you create that incentive?
Well, many countries have started requiring reporting and publishing of gender pay gaps and that is a first step. We are looking at options for that. Australia and the UK recently started requiring reporting. It’s only for organisations over a certain size, and most organisations are quite small in New Zealand. It’s trying to find that balance of requiring transparency and reporting, and providing the tools for organisations to do that.
I want to see that happen, but we have to go through a process and get our Government partners on board. So we’ve asked for advice and we are getting a paper back this month with options for transparency.
What is happening in terms of pay equity for Māori women. As you mentioned, there is a bigger gap there, so what steps are being taken to fill that?
Apparently the Ministry for Women has never before really been asked to focus on the ethnic gender pay gap. Since I’ve become Minister, I’ve started putting it in every time that I talk about gender pay gap. We talk about the ethnic pay gap and we need to be sure in our work to close the [ethnic] pay gap in the public sector. Also that we are prioritising the lowest paid women and Māori and Pacific women. I think even just by talking about it and ensuring that we are getting better data collection that could facilitate progress happening faster.
I think in the feminist discourse, the conversation around pay equity is often really one dimensional. Pay equity is an intersectional issue, some groups of men get paid less than Pākehā women across the board, and the fact is, that some women cannot even get a job. You can’t have a lower pay rate if you aren’t even employed. How do we bring those disadvantaged people into these conversations about pay equity?
It’s really important to acknowledge that gender is only one lens and we need to be thinking about equity in a much broader sense and looking at these other lenses like the ethnic gender pay gap. But also, though it’s not under my responsibility to look at the issues for men who are paid less, that is something that we should be talking about. Whether it’s immigrant or refuge men, or Māori and Pasifika men, or any others who might be systematically discriminated against.
I think it’s just raising awareness and talking about these issues. But what’s funny, is that as soon as you start to do that, you talk about the corollary. You get accused of racism or ageism. They say well, ‘you couldn’t say that about Māori men,' and I said, actually I say that all the time. Māori men are overrepresented in prison, Māori and Pacific women have a larger pay gap, most of the people on boards are Pākehā men. These are all the result of structural racism and sexism and a consequence of the conversation, and we need to fix that. It’s not racist to talk about it.
Eighty-one per cent of board positions are held by men, most of them are white, most of the men are in their 60s and 70s. Some of them are going to have to make way for new talent and diversity. That’s mathematically true, and it’s not an attack on any of those men to say that. We cannot have greater diversity unless we have greater diversity. We’re not doubling the number of work positions, or CEO, or senior work positions, so some people have to move.
Part of leadership is mentoring others and making way for others and I think the more people in those positions realise that that’s their responsibility too, it can’t be the responsibility of the groups who are underrepresented to make all the changes.
What is happening in terms of the welfare reform?
The confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens says that we will make substantial progress on overhauling our welfare system. Ensuring that principles of compassion and human rights are at its basis, rather than a punitive approach. Behind the scenes, I am advocating for solo mums in particular.
1. To be sure that they can get everything they are entitled to, because they’re currently not.
2. That the changes we make to the welfare system are ensuring that they have what they need, because that is the way that we are going to address child poverty in this country.
You can raise the minimum wage, and that’s going to help people work, but everybody needs a secure income. The vast majority of solo parent households are headed by women. We also need to look at sanctions, some of the sanctions are more punitive and affect women more than others. But this is work that we have to do with the coalition Government.
How can we hold our Government accountable? Three and a half years from now, when I am trying to discern the changes that have been made, what are the factors that we can look to?
One thing I’m not even sure we have the data on, is how many people are currently not accessing everything they are entitled to. We have asked for some work to be done on that. I think that would certainly be a measure of success. A higher percentage of people are accessing their entitlements, have enough security of income that they are able to cover all of the basics. Healthy food, healthy housing, health care.
What are your own personal aspirations as Minister for Women?
I want to be a strong advocate for women and girls. But not just women and girls, really all people who have been systematically discriminated against, who may not totally fit in the box of women and girls. Because there are as well gender diverse people who would suffer worse discrimination than some women, and some categories of women who suffer worse discrimination. I want to fly the flag for women and women’s rights but that's not being exclusive of other groups who might have suffered worse discrimination. I believe that by raising awareness of these issues and pushing for the progress that we want, both in closing the gender pay gap, wider pay equity issues, representation issues, and domestic and sexual violence we can create a society that is fair and better for all people, not just women.Support Villainesse