Wellington Scoop

Making a difference: women’s rights at the council

by Diane Calvert
International Women’s Day last week celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and raised awareness of issues that women still face, in particular a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year was also the 125th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote here in NZ. We need to celebrate this, the distance we have come and what we need to achieve to be treated equally.

Over the past 125 years we have seen incremental improvements and I thank wholeheartedly the women who paved the way and stayed on the journey. Women raise families, have successful careers and enjoy personal relationships. What more could we want? We now have choice. But do we really have gender equality across the spectrum? We know we don’t.

We are now seeing sexual harassment claims against respected international charities as well as businesses here in NZ, all in the space of less than 6 months. Why has it spread so quickly and received so much traction? Because this is bigger than sexual harassment, it’s about gender equality and it’s about women being seen as equal across all sectors of our communities. We are approximately 50% of the world’s population and a powerful force; and the tipping point for deep change has finally been reached.

This past week has seen many more events around women than ever before. Maybe because it’s the year marking 125 years of women’s suffrage. But I don’t think so. I think it is about a step change in attitudinal thinking towards gender equality and we need to springboard off that shift.

But it will take women across the entire age spectrum, whether you are a young adult, a woman in mid-career, a woman with a young family, a woman with an adult family or a woman retired . Each generation brings their own lens across the issues but only working together can we effect real change quicker.

At the Wellington City Council, a third of the leadership team are women, we have a woman Deputy Mayor, and six out of 15 elected members are women. We champion the living wage. Given that nearly two thirds of people on the minimum wage in NZ are women (who make up close to 50% of the working population), this must have an effect.

I thought it was interesting that there were no specific events by the WCC to mark International Day, though some of us did get invited to external events to mark the day. I invited Vanisa Dhiru, President of the National Council of Women NZ, to speak to us on what we can do, as a Council, to better support women. Her advice: look internally and get our own house in order first.

The Institute of Directors has released clear advice on what questions Boards should ask of their organisation in respect of sexual harassment processes. An elected Council is essentially a Board and this advice is very relevant for us. Surprisingly our elected member association – Local Government of NZ – is silent on this matter.

So what can I do as a woman and local community leader?

First of all I’m writing this article to highlight the issue from a local government perspective.

Next I will be ensuring our Council’s own internal processes are robust and we are tracking performance on gender equality. We need to ensure there is a balanced gender representation across all council areas of business – economic and social. I will follow up with LGNZ on how they will support member councils in this area.

As a Council we also need to look at how we support women’s activities in the services we provide. For example we have a notable lack of netball courts (a predominantly female sport) in comparison to turfed sports grounds used for predominantly men’s sport. Gender equality is more than just pay rates.

Collectively every person (women and men) and all groups can make a difference by taking stepped action to support change.

It’s going to be a big year for inspiration and change in attitudes towards gender equality. We, as women, need to test what we accept as the norms we have come to accept and if need be change the rules and playing field. Jacinda Ardern has done just that. Not surprisingly, men do it all the time, just look at the Americas Cup.

Diane Calvert is a Wellington City Councillor, wife, mother and grandmother


  1. Michael Gibson, 13. March 2018, 11:55

    The Committee celebration at the beginning of its meeting, with Diane Calvert’s beautiful introduction, was such an important event that it should have been shown on the Agenda. I am sorry that various speakers from the South Island were suddenly scheduled to speak and that I could not stay for the important submission from Chris Horne which was scheduled on the Council website.

  2. Sue Kedgley, 13. March 2018, 17:32

    Nice piece thanks Diane. In terms of getting our own house in order, the Wellington Regional Council has joined the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which provide a comprehensive guide to achieving gender equality within an organisation. It would be great if the Wellington City Council could join up too.

  3. Diane Calvert, 13. March 2018, 20:08

    Thanks Sue. Sounds like a great plan.

  4. Ellen, 13. March 2018, 23:20

    Good to see a leader on women’s issues emerge.
    About 70% of women like to walk for recreation way more than any formal sports, significantly more than men, and yet this is not a well looked after aspect of our parks. Swimming is also a woman-favoured activity.