Speech at International Women’s Day Breakfast

Friday, March 6, 2015 - 15:05

E aku rangatira, tēnā koutou katoa. Ka nui te honore ki te mihi ki a koutou.

[Distinguished guests.  It is a great honour to greet you all at this important event today].

Thank you for inviting me to host this important breakfast this morning, and thank you, Beryl, for your kind introduction.

I would like to acknowledge:

  • Professor Marilyn Waring, AUT University
  • Distinguished members of the Diplomatic Core
  • Elizabeth Rose, Secretary General of the National Commission for UNESCO
  • Angela McLeod, President of UN Women
  • Sue Kedgley, UN Women
  • Jan Pearson, President, Zonta
  • Fellow Parliamentary colleagues

I am delighted to be here and to share this opportunity with you. It is wonderful to see so many people who are shining examples of New Zealand’s driving force for gender equality and champions of change for women.  Many of whom I have the opportunity to meet.

In 1910, working women in New York and Europe stood up and demanded change to their working conditions.  In the same year, at an international women’s conference in Europe, International Women’s Day was born as an annual event dedicated to celebrate women and inspire change.

As you know, this year’s theme is Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity; Picture it.   Being here today is a good place to really picture what the empowerment of women looks like. I see leaders in front of me, and those who will go on to be leaders in the future. It is inspiring.  With this year’s theme in mind, today I invite us all to celebrate what New Zealand women have achieved, and look forward to where we want all women to be in the future.

It is an honour to have been named as the Minister for Women. I am a firm believer that every woman should have every opportunity to realise her potential.   I am committed to working to improve the lives of New Zealand women and girls, and as such, achieving benefits for women, their families and communities. 

This month, events will be held across New Zealand as part of the campaign to celebrate the contribution that women make to our workplaces, families and communities.  In celebrating what has been achieved in the past, we should take time to recognise the opportunities we have to do more for our women and girls.   It is the responsibility of us all to encourage, inspire and support women to take the next step forward. If we work together, we can make an even bigger difference.

Tomorrow I will travel to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York. (CSW.)  I am very proud to be given the chance to represent the New Zealand Government’s commitment to the status of women at this forum. As well as this, I am proud to be attending with a large Kiwi civil society delegation of over 40 individuals, including high school girls from Columba College, Dunedin.

The theme of CSW this year is Beijing + 20.  The 1995 World Conference on Women was a ground-breaking moment. Held in Beijing, the conference placed women’s rights at the centre of the global agenda.

I would like to especially acknowledge those who were there 20 years ago.  Twenty years later in 2015, we commemorate the importance of this occasion through Beijing + 20, a global campaign celebrating progress towards gender equality since the landmark Beijing Platform for Action was signed by 189 countries.

I look forward to the discussions with our international counterparts and particularly the focus on the economic empowerment of women and girls.   I will also take with me the stories of our women leaders that we honour today.

We already know that women are playing an increasing role in our economy, both in the skills they offer and in the numbers of women in the workforce.   The Household Labour Force Survey (December 2014) shows the participation rate for women (64.6%), and the employment rate (60.4%) are at the highest they have ever been.   This rise has been driven by the increased number of New Zealand women who hold tertiary qualifications. In 2013, women gained almost 61 percent of all tertiary qualifications.   This is great news, I’ll be utilising another of my portfolio’s which is Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment to grow it even further.

I believe one of the ways we can continue this upwards drive of participation is making workplaces workable for women. It’s particularly timely that changes to flexible working arrangements come into force today.  These changes aim to improve all workers’ participation in the labour market and to better reflect modern lifestyles.   Opportunities to work flexibly are especially important for supporting women to advance their careers.

We need to urge all chief executives and managers to promote and normalise flexible work within their organisations.

It’s encouraging that some have already taken up this challenge. And it’s working.  Finding and keeping good employees, especially highly skilled and experienced women, is a challenge for organisations.   When organisations are open and responsive to different working arrangements they have an advantage in attracting and retaining talented people. 

I wish you all a wonderful International Women’s Day and I hope you take this opportunity to learn from the many inspirational women gathered here today.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.