We all know that frontline women have the credentials, experience, skills and emotional strength to tackle the tough stuff – they are the experts. They see the problems day after day, they know what’s really going on behind closed doors and how people are living. They see the good, and the worst of it.
Giving these knowing women a genuine opportunity to deliver a better way forward is common sense, but it also takes a different way of thinking. These women would have heaps of good ideas – but I think the fear of being showed up or being told what to do is the very reason why decision-makers never ask for help.
More women work in nursing, early childhood education and primary school teaching; they hold the majority of jobs in home-based care and rest homes caring for the elderly, our young, our sick and our chronically ill. More women also volunteer to help in charities supporting social problems and fundraising for causes.
This ‘traditional’ line of work, paid and voluntary, is what gives women far greater insight and appreciation of what’s really needed to make a difference in people’s lives in a practical, no nonsense manner. But until more women are given the opportunity to contribute, they won’t offer up the answers.
Why? Because most don’t think the decision-makers want to know, or that they have little to contribute because much of their work, no matter how important it is, doesn’t pay much. It’s not of great economic value, despite the huge and growing contribution to society. Frankly we need to turn our thinking upside down.
Women should be responsible for coming up with the answers to sorting out New Zealand’s social problems. Why should it be women’s work? Because women have the know-how and, frankly, it will take women to get the job done.
The Salvation Army recently released its 2015 State of the Nation report card with the objective of encouraging public debate around our country’s social progress – it had loads of information and it certainly raised some real warning signs.
While the Government is depending on them (and other charities) to be major providers of ‘social housing’, the Sallies raised significant concerns about the plan.
They warned that: “There’s incredible stress for people in terms of housing, the impact on their rents, the impact on their ability to feel like they are providing for their families, the constant stress of shifting. Some of our families shift six times in a year or don’t know where they are living day-today. That adds incredible stress.”
And: “Reduction in recorded crime rates during 2013/14 has a hollow tone given the arbitrary way in which the police record crime” … “the slight reduction in recorded rates of violent offending is hardly significant … against such minimal change, the collapse in rates of resolution of such offending is alarming.”
I could pull out more, but sadly the report card is unlikely to cut through. So far it hasn’t gained enough public interest to bring the conversation to the dinner table. It might have got some national media coverage, but for all the effort and resource reflected in its 99 pages, I worry it will sit on the shelf or in cyber space along with all the others – even though the facts are alarming.
The Sallies too are at the coalface working with our most vulnerable, doing the best they can with little resource. But even though they are seen as an authority, their voice isn’t strong enough.
The thing is, New Zealanders are switching off because it’s not getting to our core. Until we are part of the problem and realise it, we won’t want to talk, think or fix it. And if there is no real pressure from a majority the Government knows it must listen and respond to – it won’t.
The report was called a mixture of good and bad news, describing “a mountain all can climb”. But it’s hard enough getting people interested, let alone climbing mountains.
Closer to home, I can pull up comparable sobering statistics on Hawke’s Bay. We are in the bottom of the heap for unemployment, with the worst crime in the country for violence at home and on the street, and we have working families living in poverty across all our towns, cities and rural areas. We get sicker here and on average people die younger in Hawke’s Bay than anywhere else in the country.
We should be outraged. But no we’ve heard it all before. It’s not like we don’t want to see improvements; it just that generally most people are too busy dealing with their own lives and worries to get involved. Or they have tried and been disempowered, so they give up.
Instead of looking for a game changer, what we need is change the game. New Zealand women have proven that when we join forces we can move mountains.
I believe what’s missing from the State of the Nation report card is a section on women.
Women in education, in work (full and part time), on benefits, in prison, in poverty, at risk and so on. How many are in the workforce, what are women’s income levels and what work are women doing? How many own homes, how many rent. How many years in and out of work while raising families. How women rate on social hazards – alcohol consumption, drugs and gambling … getting my drift?
And then, how do we match up to men, how far we have come and how far behind we are. Do you know?
I’m sure these statistics are buried somewhere at Stats NZ. But the last comprehensive report on women, wrapping all the data together, was published ten years ago. It’s time we started actually tracking women’s progress in our country of equality, where girls can do anything. If we do, year by year, we might hit a nerve.
We’d get a better picture of women’s contribution to the economy, to society and to family … and a lot more people would take notice of reports from the Sallies.
I think most women want to know how and if we are really progressing, and what we need to do where we are failing. We are all in it together as mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, friends and colleagues.
I’m a Hillary Clinton fan, and I hope she becomes the next president of the United States. I think she will have a significant impact on the world and for women. In America women hold two-thirds of minimum-wage jobs. One in three women are living in or on the verge of poverty, more than 25% of low-wage and low-income workers are also single mothers.
We need to see comparable information readily available in New Zealand where it can be used by advocates for change. We can’t just pass the issues on to our daughters and our granddaughters.
As a mum, helping to raise a family of five girls, my job is to give them the tools to navigate life in the 21st century. So they have the confidence, self-resilience and skills to succeed in whatever they want to do. That’s a big responsibly for us parents, but to do this I think we need to be able to let them know as young women the challenges they are likely to face, backed by facts.
We have social indicators to measure progress. I’m simply suggesting we add another category, one that will have more cut through and strike up more debate – because unless we are the story, why would we notice?
You’ve got to wonder if those conservative men in blue ties making the decisions in Wellington – in a government where women are so under-represented – actually have the balls to let us women know how we are tracking. Now that would be a report card to behold.