Each for equal: What International Women’s Day means to me

This year's International Women's Day theme is 'each for equal'. We asked Melanie Webb – Assistant Auditor-General, Legal, Policy, and Inquiries – to tell us what the day means to her.

Melanie Webb IWDInternational Women’s Day is an opportunity for everyone (regardless of gender or gender identity) to stand together and highlight the importance of equal rights for women. What does that mean to me? 

First, it's about celebrating how far we’ve come towards gender equality and remembering those before us that fought for the things we take for granted today - our right to vote, our reproductive rights, equal employment opportunities, equal pay for equal work and improved working conditions.

Just as importantly, International Women’s Day is also a chance to talk about how far we still have to go. I’ve been talking to my 12-year-old son about feminism a bit lately and he asked why the focus is on advocating for women’s rights, rather than a starting point that men and women are equal. My answer was because “we’re not there yet”.

We still live in a world where, in many countries, women are killed or mutilated because of their gender. Where women suffer violence at the hands of men and there are no criminal repercussions. Where education is not available to them because of their gender. Where human traffickers target women and girls for prostitution or forced labour... International Women's Day is an opportunity to remember that gender equality is a human rights issue and to shed light on the ways in which many women in the world are still made to suffer because of their gender.

Gender equality is also about access to power in society – the power to influence decisions and make a difference. I remember a time in my career when I came back from the UK into the New Zealand public service. My immediate manager and my chief executive were women. I provided advice to a minister who was a woman. The Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, and the Governor-General were all women. I thought we were finally making progress toward real and lasting gender equality in society. But today – 20 years later – women are still consistently under-represented in positions of power – whether at government level, at the board table, in senior leadership positions, in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, clinical research…

Lastly, for me, International Women's Day is a chance to reflect on the gender stereotypes that we all still encounter every day. In the media, in the film industry, in advertising, in the workplace, and in our own families and friend groups. New mothers are judged for how they gave birth or whether they breast or bottle feed. Parents are criticised for putting their children into childcare to return to work. Many questioned how our Prime Minister could possibly have a child while in office. Women are judged if they choose not to have children. We are labelled “difficult” if we are too strident or outspoken in our views. Little girls are “bossy” if they take charge of a game in the playground. Boys are told not to cry or throw a ball “like a girl.” I could make this list so much longer...

What does International Women's Day mean to me? Taking a moment to think about how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality. Educating myself and others about the harsh realities that many women in the world still suffer. Reminding people that one female Auditor-General in 170 years of history is not good enough. Taking responsibility for my own thoughts and actions, and actively challenging stereotypes or bias whenever I see them…

Oh… and making sure my kid is proud to call himself a feminist…

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