Much change since 1975 but much to do

Dr Marilyn Waring delivered the Dame Dorothy Fraser lecture last night, as Labour MP Jacinda Ardern looks on. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Dr Marilyn Waring delivered the Dame Dorothy Fraser lecture last night, as Labour MP Jacinda Ardern looks on. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

Picture this.

When Marilyn Waring entered Parliament in 1975 she was just one of four female MPs, there was an all-male cabinet of 19, all Government department heads were men and all the country's law courts were presided over by men.

''I was 23 years old and I needed to know the names of other women who were breaking boundaries.''

One of those names was Dorothy Fraser, the then chairwoman of the Otago Hospital Board.

Last night, Dr Waring was the guest speaker at the annual Dame Dorothy Fraser Lecture, where she spoke before several hundred people at the Kings and Queens Performing Arts Centre.

While ill health prevented Dame Dorothy from attending the lecture, she received a visit from Dr Waring and was also contacted by former prime minister Helen Clark, who gave the inaugural 2012 lecture.

The lecture series was hosted by the Dunedin South Labour Party.

Dr Waring was given a warm introduction by Labour MPs Clare Curran and Jacinda Ardern, the latter speaking affectionately of receiving a call from Dr Waring as part of a school project.

A National MP in the Muldoon government from 1975 to 1984, Dr Waring's threat of voting for the opposition's nuclear-free legislation contributed to the prime minister calling the 1984 snap election, which National lost.

She recalled one time in Parliament being told by a junior whip, ''You're so bitter.''

''I don't think I'm bitter,'' she replied, '' I think I am angry all the time.''

Dr Waring said in 2014 she was often told young women were not interested in feminism, while men were opposed to feminists.

''But my riposte is when men cry in agony in childbirth I will consider that.''

She spoke on a range of issues, often comparing what she faced in 1975 with how things have or have not changed nearly four decades later.

Those issues included abortion laws, the lack of resourcing for the Ministry of Women's Affairs, ACC and unpaid work, and domestic violence reporting.

''We do not have equality in most places in New Zealand but we frequently frame difference as deficit.''

In a question and answer session Dr Waring, who is penning her biography, encouraged women not to feel disempowered as ''that is the first moment of defeat''.

hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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