Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy Women's Suffrage Day

Hands up everyone who knew that 19 September is Women's Suffrage Day, marking the day in 1893 when New Zealand became the first country where women had the right to vote in general elections. [Take no notice of the fact that my blog insists it's still 18 September - that's what comes of using a Google template, it's based on US time.] Of course, it isn't a national holiday or anything like that! (Though it was good to see a call for it to become one in the Christchurch Press today, and also on the Green's frogblog.)

Mine began with breakfast at Victoria University, put on by the Association of University Staff, but it wasn't exactly a celebration. The speaker was Judy McGregor, Equal Opportunities Commissioner. She pointed out that that while only 20% of professors are women, only one university still has a full-time EEO officer.

Later Celia Briar from the pay equity unit said that while universities now make great play with the fact that 50% of staff are women, they omit to mention that 70% of women staff are in positions such as tutor and assistant lecturer. These are not simply "entry-level" positions - considerable numbers of women staff are still in them at retirement. They are dead-end jobs with no promotion prospects - so not the "bottom rung" at all, but the "ivory basement".

Meanwhile the gender and women's studies core programme at Victoria, which began in 1974 as one of the first such programmes in the country, is at serious risk. Some people argue that we don't need GWS any more because it's now so well mainstreamed in other courses. There are 1086 courses at Victoria, but only 55 of them even mention anything at all to do with gender or women. Tourism, for example, analyses visitors to NZ by age, origin and gender. That has about as much to do with women's studies as TVNZ's police programme has to do with its charter obligations to Maori.

I have visions of disillusioned young women in 30 or 40 years' time reinventing the feminist wheel all over again and discovering its hidden history, just as we did back in the 1970s. "Look!" they'll say, "We once had a woman prime minister! And women's studies courses! What happened?"

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