Litmus test of equity generates gender debate

Sir Anand Satyanand – 

This year (2015) provides a particularly good opportunity for review of progress in many areas.

For example, in the United Nations, there is much work being done in the present months on compliance achieved with the Millennium Development Goals of 2000.

In September forthcoming, there will be a significant meeting in New York to agree on a successor framework to those goals.

It will be well known that whilst there has been considerable progress on things such as increased school enrolment, decreased mortality among children and access to drinkable water, there are a number of other areas where those results are not matched.

The effects of climate change are a notable example.

Resetting the Compass

These UN meetings were described by former New Zealand Prime Minister, and now Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, Helen Clark, in delivering this year’s Commonwealth Lecture in London in April as “an opportunity to reset the compass.”

One can express the same potential for this same kind of review to occur in our own country in a number of areas.

For example, in 2015, New Zealand presents with a four million plus community that is more diverse than at any previous time in its history.

Studies on the results of the 2013 Census are beginning to emerge, like that called ‘Te Pae Tawhiti,’ issued by the Royal Society of New Zealand in recent weeks, where the impact of numbers of Asian people into the New Zealand community is discussed.

Challenging Demography

One in four New Zealanders was born overseas compared with one in five in the 2001 Census. The number of people of Indian origin has gone from just over 100,000 to more than 150,000 in just over a decade.

How New Zealand will cope with a different-looking society, which will be ageing at a greater rate than ever before, needs consideration.

Added to diversity is the reflection that the New Zealand community is today better educated than ever before.

It is possible in our country to start, or re-start, education at many levels, becoming a Cordon Bleu chef as an adult, learning cultural proficiency at a wananga or completing a University PhD in one’s 80’s, is possible in today’s chemistry.

Voter apathy

How all of this can be harnessed and channelled into gainful community contribution also needs consideration.  To diversity and education can be added engagement, whereby there are such things as 20,000 New Zealanders being involved in board of trustee work affecting governance of the country’s schools.

Alongside this, the percentage of people exercising the right to vote in the last general election in 2014 was just over 77%, meaning that a million people didn’t show up to vote, making it one of New Zealand’s worst turnouts in the last century.

Where all of this is leading, provides good opportunities for stocktaking and review.

First Woman Mayor

It is against this background that an appraisal of the role that women take in governance becomes important for consideration.

I recently read an account of a woman, named Elizabeth Yates, standing for election in the Onehunga borough at the end of the 19th century and gaining the mayoral seat and (in 1893) receiving praise for this in many quarters, here and overseas.

For Web Editioin-Litmus test of equity- A section of the guestsHowever, upon her taking office, four Councillors and the Town Clerk resigned immediately in protest. Council meetings were often disruptive, and three Councillors opposed every proposal she submitted.

Mrs Yates had, it was said, somewhat tactless, dictatorial manner and lack of regard for established rules of procedure, which didn’t help the situation.

Curious spectators often crammed the small Council Chamber, while unruly elements hooted and jeered outside.

Newspapers published verbatim accounts of what were described as ‘disgraceful’ scenes.

After a difficult year in office, Mrs Yates was soundly defeated at the polls in November 1894. Despite her brief tenure, she left a valuable legacy: she had liquidated the borough debt, established a sinking fund, upgraded roads, footpaths and sanitation, and had re-organised the fire brigade.

Even her opponents agreed she had been an able administrator.

Continuing debate

More than a century later New Zealanders are accustomed to encountering women in almost every walk of life but the matter of engagement in governance is still debated.

In public life, Parliament and Councils, women are regularly elected and appointments of women occur frequently in the judiciary.

Whilst there was a point in the early 2000s when the positions of Governor-General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Speaker of the House of Representatives were for a time all held by women, there is still room for appraisal of opportunities and the application of the litmus test of equity if not equality.

Coverage of some of the aspects of this last mentioned topic in a Lecture this year bearing my name is thus something to which we look forward.

Sir Anand Satyanand is former Governor General of New Zealand (August 2006 to August 2011) in whose name we conduct the Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture every year. The Fifth annual Lecture will be held on Monday, July 27, 2015 at Pullman Hotel, Auckland with Jan Dawson, Chairperson of Westpac and Deputy Chairperson of Air New Zealand as the Guest Speaker on ‘The Role of Women in Governance,’ with Dr Susan Macken, Director, BNZ and Member, The Treasury as the Master of Ceremonies. Wendy Palmer, Chief Executive, Media Works Radio will provide Insights into ‘The Role of Women in Media’ and Ranjna Patel, Director, East Tamaki Healthcare and Director, Bank of Baroda will offer her Reflections of the speeches. Tickets to the event, priced at $140 plus GST per person (Tables seating ten persons each at $1400 plus GST per table) are available. Please contact (09) 3910203. Email:

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