Strong woman in face mask via Getty
Strong woman in face mask via Getty

Peter Williams: What is it like to be a woman today?

Peter Williams 08/03/2021

OPINION: I’m old enough to remember the rise of the women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s and the entire year of 1975 declared as International Women’s Year. I also remember being both bemused and in admiration of the women’s movement because from where I stood, the women in my family were always completely equal and life was not restricted by your gender. 

But then I guess our family was a bit out of the ordinary for the time. My mother was back teaching from when I was about 6 years old and never stopped until she retired. My sister was the first in our family to graduate from university. So I didn’t think too much in my immediate family about women’s aspirations being blocked because of their gender. 

But as you get older, and you observe the world more closely, you know that in too many workplaces women are still disadvantaged, even well into the 21st century. Then there are some industries, for want of a better word and primary school teaching is by far the worst offender, where women now completely dominate, and men are being more and more shut out and in some instances made to feel unwelcome. But life is far more about work and careers, it’s also about life opportunities and life experiences. 

I note the Commission for Financial Capability is running a series of workshops to improve women’s financial literacy, which can only be a good thing, because if there is one area where women still appear to be badly discriminated against, it’s in their ability to borrow money, especially for a house, and especially if that woman is single. 

I remember in my later days at TVNZ, one of the makeup women had split with her partner, had a young daughter and wanted to be able to buy out the ex so that she and her daughter had their own house and the security that came with it. She went to all the banks herself, and from memory, I think she needed around $400,000 and her income was going to be able to easily service the mortgage, even then when the rates were higher than what they are now, but she used to tell me day after day about how another male bank manager had turned her down for the most sexist of reasons. Like, well you might not always have your job. TV is a fickle industry and you could be laid off. Or the worst of them all, you might get pregnant again and you won’t be able to work. This was just three years ago. I bet that attitude still exists today. 

Thankfully she found a sympathetic mortgage broker who could help her and she finally got her money but it was an unnecessary saga and just added more stress to her life at what was already a difficult time. 

In this country, we’ve always been really proud of the way women's place in society. We still celebrate being the first country in the world to give women the vote on a nationwide basis. As far back as 1999, we had two women as the leaders of our two main political parties in a general election, and the same thing happened last year of course. 

For the last 22 years, we’ve had a woman Prime Minister more often than not, we’ve had a woman as the Chief Justice since 1999, and starting with Cath Tizard in 1990 the job of Governor-General of New Zealand has been shared 50/50 between men and women - 3 men, 3 women - and that’s the way it should be. So you could say there are plenty of role models for women to be inspired by in this country, but the question still remains - are we doing enough to ensure women in this country get a fair go in all aspects of life? 

Is there a significant difference between the opportunities available to women of different ethnicities in this country? And who is responsible for fixing that? 

We know there was major controversy on Waitangi Day about a woman’s rights to speak on a marae, which in these days of equal opportunity seems like a very old-fashioned concept. So on this International Women's Day, what are the biggest issues facing women in New Zealand in 2021? 

Is it still domestic violence? Police say that there are about 120,000 calls to them each year over domestic violence incidents, about one every four minutes somewhere in the country and most of those involve men bashing women and children. 

Look, I’m a man, I’ve always been one and always will be. So I can’t know what it’s like to be a woman except that I lived with them all my life and have always worked in an industry - that is the media in general - which in recent years, certainly since the turn of the century, has always pushed the case for women to be in prominent positions, and not many men have an issue with that.

So maybe I look at life through rose-tinted glasses and see women in this country as not being denied opportunity, not lacking in life success. But behind the facade, is it different?

Peter Williams is the host of Magic Mornings, weekdays 9am - 12pm on Magic Talk.