#MeToo movement exposing 'very unpleasant side of New Zealand' - Helen Clark

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says the #MeToo movement is exposing a "very unpleasant side of New Zealand".

"If it's under the carpet it won't be dealt with," she said.

Ms Clark was a guest at Government House on Wednesday, at the launch of Suffrage 125 - a celebration of 125 years since women in New Zealand gained the vote.

She spoke to media about the obstacles women face in New Zealand, including inadequate political representation, the challenge of balancing work with children, and the cultural issues raised by the Me Too movement.

"There are still men in our society who thinks it's fine to sexually harass, rape, intimidate, bully women on a gender basis, so we've got to deal with that," she said.

"We're not alone in that - many societies face this challenge - but that doesn't make it better."

One of the low points she's seen for women in New Zealand during her career was "an attempt to radically restrict abortion rights", which saw women heading overseas to get the procedure.

"This was awful, so to see that change stopped and to see women in New Zealand gain the right to have an abortion...was very important to me.

"Jacinda Ardern has signalled she's prepared to go further with taking abortion out of the criminal law. Good - I hope it happens."

Ms Clark said political parties have to encourage more women into politics, saying they could be the greatest champions of women's representation or the greatest opponents.

"They've all got to be converted to champions, that's how we'll get to 50 percent in Parliament."

She said New Zealand also needs to make it truly possible for women to have family and home and career, "if that's what they want".

Speaking of her own upbringing in rural New Zealand, she said it was significant that she had no brothers because "it never occured to me that I couldn't do anything that I wanted to".

"I had a family that was very supportive of my education right through university - that was not the case for every girl in New Zealand at that time," she said.

"Girls' education at that time was not thought by many to be as important, which isn't fair.

"Life treated me pretty well but I can see that not everybody had that experience - so that's what's kept me going, is ensuring everybody has the level of opportunity that I've had."

Ms Clark said the gold standard for equality can be found in Scandinavia, and New Zealand could be that gold standard.

"Let's be proud of where we are, but say we could do even better."


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