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“Any serious shift towards more sustainable societies has to include gender equality.” Helen Clark
Promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women has long been part of the UN’s development goals.
Fifteen years before the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targeted the promotion of gender equality and empowerment. While the MDGs focused most on developing nations, their success led to the current international agenda, targeting a more sustainable vision for gender equality.
In 2015, the United Nations published their review of the Millennium Development Goals, reporting that since 1995, more than 90% of the 174 countries listed have increased the number of women in their parliament.
Further, the proportion of women in these parliaments has nearly doubled during the same period. However, only one in five members of these parliaments are women. There is still a long way to reach gender parity in parliaments around the world.
In 1893, our country became the first in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections. In most other democracies – including the United Kingdom and the United States – women did not win the right to vote until after the First World War. Even later, France — sometimes called “le pays des droits de l’Homme,” — only granted women the right to vote at the end of the Second World War.
Earlier in this 21st century in New Zealand, women simultaneously held each of the country’s top constitutional positions: Governor-General, Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice, Attorney-General, and Cabinet Secretary. A woman also headed the country’s largest private corporation. Following the 2014 election, 31% of our Members of Parliament were female, compared with 9% in 1981.
It’s the case that the Sustainable Development Goals concern every country on the planet, not only developing countries. As a signatory to the SDGs, New Zealand has a commitment to work towards Goal 5 “Gender Equality”: achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
To follow the gender equality path, people can make an impact by volunteering for women’s empowerment and rights.
Awareness is always a good start to contributing to the SDGs. Awareness should not only be exercised by adults but also by our children. It is important to talk about gender equality with the younger generation who will become our future leaders.
Many different New Zealand volunteer-involving organisations contribute to gender equality, including GirlGuiding and Girls’ Brigade New Zealand, who do this by empowering girls and women; Women’s Refuge does this by helping to prevent and stop family violence and YMCA New Zealand does this by connecting people from all ages and all backgrounds.
The National Council of Women in New Zealand (NCWNZ) has made strides in this direction. Recently, the NCWNZ held a conference on Gender Equality.
In addition, the NCWNZ has also released a white paper identifying five prerequisites to a gender equal New Zealand. It includes:
To progress gender equality, volunteers can speak out against sexism by creating and supporting campaign to ensure we have the right policies in place, and encourage leaders to champion gender equality within their sectors, industries, communities.
To contribute to gender equality, volunteers should also act to improve New Zealand’s laws and systems. By joining committees and organisations involved in the achievement of gender equality, volunteers are able to have a major impact by acting together.
As the first country in the world to enact women’s suffrage, New Zealand has a proud history involving gender equality, and volunteers can take part of this journey towards Goal 5 of achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls. Thus, by volunteering, we can collectively have a direct impact on the present and future outcomes for women and girls of New Zealand.