ANZASW Statement for International Women’s Day 2019

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) joins colleagues, allies and friends around the world in celebrating International Women’s Day 2019.

The theme for this year’s Day is “Balance For Better”, a call to action to maximise gender balance in business, politics, media coverage and other important areas.

Today we celebrate the achievements in the cause of gender equality that have taken place over the past year, in particular the pay parity settlement for social workers at Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children, led by the Public Service Association (PSA) with the Association’s firm support.

“Today the Association is pleased to note the victories for women in Aotearoa over the past year, including those that have impacted our profession. But these developments are only further steps toward full gender parity, and we remain a long way off from that goal yet,” ANZASW Chief Executive said.

“The Oranga Tamariki settlement is a case in point. While we fully support and commend the agreement, we would like to see the same settlement for non-government organisations and other agencies, so that social workers- the majority of whom are women- get a fair deal across the board,” she asserted.

“ANZASW is also mindful of the fact that, despite the incremental narrowing of the gender pay gap since the turn of the century, it has only fallen by around 7 per cent and women continue to be under-represented in governance roles and other positions of influence. This is particularly true for Maori and Pasifika women / w`shine,” she continued.

“Globally, we’re glad to see the growth of movements calling the perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment to account, such as MeToo and Time’s Up. We hope that these campaigns will continue with the same momentum and have a lasting impact,” Sandford-Reed added.

Women / wahine and social work

Social work is committed to the cause of gender equality, self-determination and women’s rights, including bodily autonomy.

As the IFSW policy statement on women / wāhine asserts: Human rights are women’s rights; accordingly, social workers recognise that almost every issue of social and economic justice is a women’s issue, requiring an intersectional gender analysis. The Association recognises that gender is not determined by the sex one is assigned at birth and that women’s rights are not restricted to cis-gendered women alone.

Our Kaupapa in our work with women / wahine is driven by an awareness that no-one knows their own challenges and needs better than women themselves and that we as social work professionals are here to support them through a process in which they make decisions in their own best interest.

This support can take many forms- from reducing isolation, strengthening the networks around the service user to enhancing their safety in situations where their physical or mental health is at risk and advocating within systems on their behalf, sometimes in the face of structural or institutional sexism.

As social workers, informed by our professional training, we realise that some challenges faced by women are personal, the result of relationships or internal struggles, while others emerge from external factors, such as societal prejudice, unfair expectations imposed on women / wahine and economic hardship- very often, it is a combination of both.

Our profession is trained to recognise the overlapping and multifarious contexts in which challenges to wellbeing present themselves, and to tailor our support accordingly. This approach means that social work practitioners can provide support to service users in unique ways that complement the work of colleagues in other sectors.

As ANZASW member Kim Myhill, a senior practitioner in the field of Maternal Mental Health, observes: “The difference between myself and my health colleagues, who are also there to do important work with women, is I feel like social workers are much more conscious of the inequities that are around women.”

This inequity can express itself in gender-specific ways. Drawing on her own field of practice, she observed: “when a woman is having a baby, they often take maternity leave from their employer, which often means they can’t continue to pay for the childcare that was actually part of them looking after themselves and looking after their family, and my experience is that what happens for women in that situation is they absorb all that responsibility themselves, therefore it’s their responsibility just to “work harder” or to “do better.” Whereas, actually, what’s happened is, they’ve lost some of the support that was actually keeping them well in the first place. Through no fault of their own, just because of the way our world is set up.”

In such situations, she observes, one of the key roles of the social worker is to expand the range of possibilities that the service user has available to them, or is aware are available: “”Information is power; letting people know that there could be some other options- and as a social worker I might advocate for someone to have some other options- or just providing information and enabl[ing] them to do it themselves, but it’s looking at things a little bit differently.”

“Very often women have; abilities, skills, internal resources, that they’re not aware of, or they’re not able to access at that point,” she adds.

Gender equality is everyone’s responsibility- and benefits everyone

The case for gender parity is not just a matter of principle. It makes hard economic sense.

As the International Monetary Fund has noted, economic empowerment for women increases productivity, drives growth, enhances innovation and income equality in addition to other positive outcomes. IMF head Lagarde stated recently, increasing women’s participation in the workforce could boost the global economy by more than a third and asserted that more women on boards correlates to improved performance for companies and organisations.

These views are supported by the United Nations women’s agency, which observed: “Women’s economic equality is good for business. Companies greatly benefit from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organizational effectiveness and growth. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance”

In order to fully realise gender parity in our country, all New Zealanders need to play their part. This can be done by getting involved in the campaign for equal pay, supporting women’s rights as an individual, collectively, and on a personal basis, challenging biases we may have absorbed.

To paraphrase Malala Yousafzai: Society as a whole cannot succeed when one half of it is being held back.

The Association pays tribute to the countless people of all gender identifications, across cultures and continents, who are actively engaged in trying to bring about a fully gender representative world.