Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hon Louise Upston
Minister for Women

Speech - International Women’s Day breakfast

It’s a pleasure to be here and join with you in marking International Women’s Day.

Special thanks to Barbara and to UN Women Aotearoa New Zealand and Zonta International for once again hosting this breakfast and inviting me to speak. It’s good to be back.

I’d like to acknowledge the enormous contribution to gender equality made by many of you in this room today. Today is a day to be proud and celebrate our achievements.

I’d also like to offer a special welcome to Dame Silvia Cartwright and acknowledge the work she has done in particular as a member of the CEDAW committee (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

A warm welcome to the distinguished members of the diplomatic core, my Ministerial and parliamentary colleagues including National MP, Barbara Kuriger, and most especially to the young women in the audience - our future leaders and trail-blazers. 

Gender Equality by 2030 is something we can all aspire to and I am pleased to say that New Zealand is in the process of signing up to the Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality  campaign.

There are many indicators that show New Zealand is on its way to gender equality.

For example, women are gaining tertiary qualifications at a higher rate than men and are increasingly studying and working in traditionally male-dominated and high growth sectors.

As at December last year, New Zealand had close to the highest proportion of women in the workforce that we have seen.

We are proud of our reputation as a ground-breaking nation that empowers women to lead independent and self-determining lives.

While we were the first country in the world to give women the right to vote, we should not be complacent.

Our legacy of gender equality relies on our ability to do better for all New Zealand women, now and into the future.

We are not alone. The international community has joined to create the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes gender equality as one of its goals.

All countries have work to do, including New Zealand.

My four priority areas to improve the lives of women and girls are to:

•        Support more women and girls in education and training

•        Better utilise women’s skills and growing our economy

•        Encourage and develop women leaders; and

•        Ensure women and girls are free from violence.

I’m pleased to say we’ve already taken steps in the right direction.

For example, we know that work arrangements with flexibility can allow women to pursue a greater range of career opportunities.

The Government has introduced legislation to make it easier for all employees to work flexibly. This brings our employment law more in line with modern lifestyles and expectations.

The Ministry for Women is encouraging aspiring women leaders by connecting them to practical resources to support them to take the next step in their careers.

The Ministry also continues to run an appointment service for recruiting women on to state sector boards and committees.

I am on the board of Women in Politics. One of our goals is to encourage more women to consider standing for local government and central government. About 30 percent of MPs are women and 30 percent of candidates standing for parliament are women.

Local government elections are being held this year and it’s a great time to be thinking about what you can offer your local community trust, health board, community board or council.

Many of you have the right skills, experience and attributes for these roles, but may not know it.

Equally, every day, there are women around New Zealand working to make a positive impact on the lives of New Zealanders.

I am keen to ensure that those women gain the recognition they deserve.

The Honours Unit at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is now receiving nominations for the 2017 New Year’s Honours appointment round.

Anybody can make a nomination for these honours and I encourage you to nominate women you know of who give their time and resources to assist others.

To the young women in the audience, I urge you to aim high, dream big and don’t give up even when others tell you to.

Broaden your career horizons and explore all your options. Your goal should be to reach your true potential. Don’t settle for anything less. 

Start by downloading the Occupation Outlook App to find out what New Zealand needs.

Software developers, ICT systems and business analysts are in high demand. There is steady work in the construction and infrastructure trades, with carpenters, joiners, project managers and architects all benefiting from increasing demand for their skills; we’re still short of engineers.

Don’t be dissuaded by perceptions these are non-traditional roles for women. This is what it means to be a trail-blazer. Meet your own expectations; not society’s. 

One of my favourite sayings is from American activist Marina Wright Edelman who said, “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

We all have a role to play in making opportunities for women more visible. Share your stories of success and support each other on your leadership journey.

Be a role model and mentor for young women starting out.

If women become more visible in all layers of society I believe this will accelerate progress towards gender equality.