The new Government will make women a priority - Minister

The new Minister for Women does not hesitate to say she's a feminist.

In her words feminism simply means women are "completely equal to men and should be treated as such".

Julie Anne Genter is now a Minister in a Parliament with the highest percentage of women in its history, albeit well below half.

She sees her role as being the "voice and champion for finally getting a fair deal for women" in particular those who are the most vulnerable and discriminated against.

"Whether that's solo mums, pasifika, tangata whenua wahine, other women of colour in New Zealand, the reality out there is it's not fair at the moment. They're paid less, they have fewer opportunities and we need to change that."

Politicians have traditionally been reluctant to embrace the feminist label. Previous Minister for Women Paula Bennett once said she was a feminist "most days", and before her Louise Upston didn't use the label. 

Former Prime Minister Bill English said he didn't know what feminism was, a response echoed by many MPs when Newshub put the question to them last year. 

Julie Anne Genter in front of a Green party 'Yes We Cannabis' campaign billboard.
Julie Anne Genter in front of a Green party 'Yes We Cannabis' campaign billboard. Photo credit: Twitter/ Julie Anne Genter

For Ms Genter there is no murkiness around the issue. "It wasn't that long ago that women were the property of their husbands, and while we're making progress towards equality, we're not all the way there because of that history," she said.

"That's not going out and hating or blaming men, it's just saying look, our current society isn't fair, it's not equal, and we're going to have to take steps to get there."

Her top priority as Minister is closing the gender pay gap in the core public service, and she wants to see it happen within four years. She'll be taking on new responsibilities around pay equity legislation and closing the pay gap - a role traditionally led by MBIE or the State Services Commission.

She wants progress made to close the gap in the private sector and wants more women and more diversity in leadership positions.

"This new Government is clearly going to make women a priority. We've already seen that with the first legislation being, finally, an extension to paid parental leave and we've announced we'll be making progress this year on pay equity and equal pay."

There are seven women in Cabinet, the same figure as the previous government. Across the 52nd Parliament, 38.4 percent of MPs are women - a record high. 

"The circumstances still reflect the recent history of not having gender equality in all the parties," Ms Genter said.

The Greens have a policy to advocate for a 50/50 gender split within Cabinet, and they require a male and female co-leader. Of the party's eight MPs, six are women.

The Greens have eight MPs in Parliament, including three Ministers and one Parliamentary Under-Secretary.
The Greens have eight MPs in Parliament, including three Ministers and one Parliamentary Under-Secretary. Photo credit: Green Party

"The Labour party brought in a fantastic number of really talented women. You wouldn't expect them to go straight into Cabinet when they've just been elected but I think that we are going to get there, and I absolutely think the Prime Minister is an ally."

Ms Genter said biases towards women in politics have probably limited the amount of women who enter the profession, including the idea that "if she hasn't started a family yet or is thinking about it then she might not be eligible for a job".

"We are in the process of changing that, there is a generational shift, we are making progress and our new Government is going to accelerate that progress."

Ms Genter has expertise in transport, economics and finance, and says it's usual to find herself the only woman in the meeting room. She wants to see that change.

"The decisions made at those levels affect the type of cities we live in, affect the way our economy runs and what its focus and priorities are. Women and all groups who are underrepresented should be involved in those policy decisions."

She's still processing being a Minister under New Zealand's third, but youngest, female Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"Having a woman my age as Prime Minister is unbelievably inspiring. I actually get choked up a lot of times when I think about it, and I think it's going to be inspiring for a whole generation of young women in Aotearoa."

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