Celebrating 100 years of women’s progress

Susan Dickson progress

Throughout New Zealand there have been celebrations of the progress women have made since women gained the vote one hundred years ago.

These celebrations have muted somewhat by the knowledge that there is still a long way to go before there is true equality so the work must continue.

Susan Dickson, Catholic Women’s League National President asks “Are we there yet?”

Kate Sheppard and Margaret Fletcher, CWL founder, have much in common. First and foremost, they were both woman of faith. Women who believed in and who lived the gospel values.

  • They were passionate about equality for women, leaders in the suffrage movement.
  • They believed in improving the lives of women and their families through access to education.
  • They wanted social change to support vulnerable women and children.
  • They wanted a Christian voice on women’s issues. Most importantly both Kate and Margaret were agents for change.
  • They campaigned for and sought change.
  • They urged their followers to live their faith.
  • They acted.

If these women were to visit us today to conduct an audit what would they find?

Would they be happy with the progress made towards equality over the past 125 years?

Much to be proud of

Kate Sheppard and Margaret Fletcher would congratulate us on all the welfare work CWL has done over the years, our

  • At Home Appeals,
  • Missions in the Pacific and at home,
  • support of the Church,
  • support of women,
  • lobbying of governments on social issues and more.

But, I believe they would both be dismayed to see that many of the issues that were most dear to them are still major concerns for us in 2018.

Both Kate Sheppard and Margaret Fletcher were concerned by the negative effects of alcohol abuse on individuals and the family.

They would be deeply saddened to see that drug, alcohol and gambling addictions rank as one of the most devastating social ills in current NZ society.

The effect on children of the “P epidemic” is heart breaking. The long-term effects on our society hardly bare thinking about.

  • How would they feel confronted with the staggering level of domestic violence and intimate partner violence within NZ?
  • Families sleeping in cars? Families doubling-up and tripling up to share substandard rental properties?
  • Workers struggling to live on a minimum wage that is less than a living wage?
  • Women dominating the ranks of the lowest paid sectors?
  • Pacifika women dominating the lowest paid and most menial sectors of the workforce?
  • Families needing two and three jobs to generate enough income to meet their basic living costs?
  • Long waiting lists for health care?
  • The hundreds of families and individuals who daily rely on food banks?
  • Charities across the country providing school lunches?

The list could fill the page.

What might Kate and Margaret include in their report as recommendations

They would be telling us to act.

Not to accept the current situation as too hard and someone else’s problem.

According to the gospel we are our sister’s keeper.

Many of us already actively support charities that work to help the vulnerable. See if you can recruit another person to do likewise.

Remember engaging in the discussion and raising the profile of organisations is as much social action as joining a protest march or knitting beanies.

There are a range of things we can do. A challenge: I am asking each branch to

  • find a member or someone from your parish to visit your local MP, or MPs. This visiting is often easier done in pairs. MPs need to hear from us what it is that we are concerned about and what actions we want them to take.
  • As a branch, brainstorm the issues that most concern you.
  • In 125 Years of Suffrage year, look for something that concerns women.
  • Go prepared with a written statement of what you wish to speak to them about.
  • Concentrate on just one issue. It could be the need for the minimum wage to be linked to a living wage, quality social housing, why we are afraid of the consequences of euthanasia…
  • Have an action request.
  • Something concrete you want the MP to do and ask them to report back.
  • Ask them to speak to the relevant Minister on your issue, explain their party’s policy, find out information for you.
  • Finally, report to your diocesan president. Who did you go to see?  What did you talk about? What was the outcome? The other members of CWL want to hear what you are doing.

Over the past 125 years much has been achieved in relation to gender equality within New Zealand, but we are not there yet.