A better life for all

gill_greer_prencwGill Greer
National Council of Women of NZ

My grandmother spoke English with a very heavy German accent, having learned it from her parents as a small child. She left school at 12, and went on to run a general store in Upper Atiamuri as if she had an MBA. When I began university at 16, I learned German, and when she asked me to “say something in German” I’d recite, “ein, zwei, vier, funf, sechs” several times while she smiled. I did it to please her. Belatedly, I realised that when people are denied the chance to learn their own language their loss goes far beyond words.

Her story, as the child of a family that tried hard not to be different, reminds me that we, or our forbears, all came from somewhere else, somehow, to find a better life: safety; respect for difference; dignity; social justice-“a fair go”, and a better future for our children.

Seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our troubled planet is home to more displaced people than ever before. The number of refugees and migrants seeking a better life will only increase with conflict, natural disasters and climate change.

When that time arrives, many of these people will want to come here as skilled migrants, not climate refugees. And how will we help? This is surely a question for us all  not just the government of the day.

Before she ruled her family and the local store, my grandmother trained as a tailoress and married a tailor.

Although initially led largely by men, the Dunedin Tailoresses’ Union, to which she probably belonged, was the first women’s union. In April 1896, their representatives attended the inaugural meeting of the National Council of Women – formed to unite women – “sweep wrong and injustice from the land, and make the country one,” with “perfect trust between all classes.”

I don’t know whether my grandmother was ever an activist, but I do enjoy that link between her life and my current role with NCW . Over 290 organisations still belong to NCW, we have 19 branches and around 400 members. Engaging volunteers, attracting convenors and writing policy submissions are still an essential part of what we do.

The big difference between then and now is our on-line campaign through the Gender Equal New Zealand FaceBook page. While we celebrate  the 43,000 hits we received when we launched in September, it’s also important to honour the Suffragettes, many of whom were foundation NCW members. Back in 1893, after a 20-year campaign, they collected over 32,000 signatures in the final petition that won New Zealand women the vote. That equalled over a quarter of the adult European female population.

And for the last 122 years since its formation, NCW has called for equal pay for equal work, for men and women. And at last it seems it might just be possible!

Every time I read some of the responses to posts on our FaceBook page I realise why our work is still so necessary, not only because of our calls for true equality across all genders, for LGBTQI+ but because, 125 years after women gained the vote, feminism, even in its newest forms, can still produce irrational reactions, and toxic anger.

As Dale Spender said so eloquently back in 1990:

“Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practised no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety in the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centres, women’s refuges, reforms in the law. If someone says, ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist’, I ask, ‘Why? What’s your problem?”

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our website:  http://comvoices.org.nz/