National Council of Women acknowledges its need for feminism

That’s my personal spin, anyway.

The background:  NCW has launched a sweet little campaign in the standard internet take-pic-of-self-holding-empowering-statement-and-post-on-Tumblr vein.  They want you to say why you need feminism.

The big problem:  NCW is the last organisation which should be sending messages about why we need feminism.  If NCW is going to solicit people’s feedback on why feminism is necessary, it should only be as part of a gigantic soul-searching “where the fuck have we gone wrong” review.

I don’t want to go about crowning myself Queen of NZ Feminism or anything, so here’s a list of Official Feminist Topics as discussed by two group feminist NZ blogs or featured in the Down Under Feminists Carnival, over the last month or so (I was going to do six months, but damn, we shrieking harridans cover a lot of stuff):

  • The Southland abortion fight
  • Fundraising for Women’s Refuge
  • Family First’s attacks on Rainbow Youth and comprehensive sex education
  • Rape culture and rugby culture
  • Gender discrimination in the police force
  • The inaugural Fat Studies conference
  • The eternal porn vs erotica debate
  • Women’s political representation
  • Marriage equality

[Sources:  random scans of The Hand Mirror, The Lady Garden, the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival]

A pretty diverse bunch of issues there, being discussed and publicised by … maybe a dozen writers with families and jobs and other things to do?

You’d think some of them would have hit NCW’s radar, right?  As “the country’s leading women’s organisation”?

Their website lists five things as “some of the key issues facing New Zealand women today”:

  • Women and Work
  • Women and Leadership [in work]
  • Pay Equity [also kinda about work]
  • Family Violence
  • Parliamentary Representation [which is kind of like work]

So that’s 60% work-related, 80% if we count Parliament as a workplace, and Family Violence.  Hmm.  Let’s look around the rest of their site.

Under “Campaigns” we have two: Women And [you guessed it] Work and Facebook Campaign, which is about putting pressure on Facebook to take down pages which openly promote sexual violence.  Last update: December 2011.

But in terms of big, largely women-related issues of 2012?  No mention of abortion, either generally or in reference to the Southern DHB issue.  No mention even in passing of SlutWalk, not even the 2011 events which made headline news throughout the country.  They supported and even had a speaker at Reclaim the Night … in 2009.  Nothing at Queer the Night, but I base that assumption on the fact that a search for “queer” doesn’t return a single result.

Gay marriage?  Marriage equality?  Gay adoption?  Bueller?

How about the non-work-related big-red-buttonclassic feminist issues?  “Rape” is mentioned only in terms of the aforementioned Facebook campaign.   “Contraception”, nada.  “Queer” and “abortion” as mentioned above.

How about “pregnancy”?  Among quite a few links, we find a press release from 2008 about the rates of abuse pregnant people face.  Wait, not just pregnant people:

it is abhorrent to think that mothers-to-be, and their defenceless unborn children are being exposed to this kind of physical violence.

Fuck yeah, I love me a “leading women’s organisation” that just flops out some antichoice vocab and lets it hang there.

Let’s get some intersectionality going here.  “Disability” returns a resolution about “under-65 year olds who next rest home grade care”.  Charming.  “Maori” returns a few side mentions, particularly around the ACC issue, but nothing specific.  “Racism” returns no results.  “Transwomen”, “transsexual” and “transgender” return no results.  For “queer” see above.  “Class” can apparently only come after the words “middle” and “antenatal”.

What’s really interesting is that NCW’s Twitter and Facebook accounts do a far better job addressing a large number of issues, pushing information from other sites and organisations, and generally being interesting.  One can only assume they’ve got some keen young Gen Y stuck in a back office doing that Weird Modern Communicating stuff while the adults write press releases and create godawful videos.

Wait, press releases, you say?  Those are always a good way of seeing what an organisation cares about.  Let’s have a look at those.  A whopping seven published for the year 2012, covering:

  • Mandatory reporting of child abuse (where the focus, according to the headline, is that NCW has totally supported this for aaaaaaages)
  • Extending paid parental leave
  • Inadequate consultation on welfare reforms
  • Valuing caregivers
  • The NZX taking gender representation seriously
  • The closure of Salisbury School
  • NCW supports Paula Bennett’s welfare reforms because solo parents on benefits need to “become contributing members of society”


Yep, you read that right:  NCW’s President, Elizabeth Bang, issued a press release saying:

“NCWNZ supports policies that help parents on a benefit to get into the workforce where possible, so they can become contributing members of society and they and their families can enjoy a better quality of life,”

Now, before anyone accuses me of smearing good President Bang, you’re completely right.  That line is not in the version of the press release on the NCW website.  It’s immortalised on Scoop.  Kinda like someone noticed how the President of the National Council of Women just basically said “women’s unpaid labour isn’t worth shit” and thought maybe they should try to step that back.

I don’t want to downplay the good work I’m sure NCW is doing somewhere, presumably working hard to get an older white cis woman appointed to the board of Telecom because that’s fighting the good fight.  No, that’s a bit harsh.  There is (if you dig) some good work that’s been done on child tax credits and ACC’s horrible treatment of sexual abuse survivors.  And pay equity is still a big fight to fight.

But the notion that an organisation which so clearly does not represent the breadth and depth of women’s issues in New Zealand*, which, as far as I’m concerned, actively works against certain classes of women, is in any position to say “yeah grrls, let’s show people why we need feminism!!!” is fucking laughable.

But then, the disclaimer on their Tumblr should have warned me:

We want to inspire dialogue and we want to you to share the many ways in which feminism is important to you – but we want to encourage respectful discussion.

We are keen to receive submissions that are radical or provocative but we reserve the right to decline submissions if we deem them to be hateful or otherwise inappropriate.

Or there’s President Bang’s own comments in the press release for the campaign:

The idea is to show that feminists are not ‘man-hating’ and ‘bra-burning’ and they’re not just women – feminists are people who believe that men and women should be equal.

There goes my “I need feminism because the National Council of Women are doing fuck-all to advance causes that aren’t mainstream and popular” submission idea.  And my “I need feminism because even so-called feminists keep buying into bullshit bra-burning myths” submission idea.

We do need feminism.  Unfortunately, the National Council of Women isn’t even in the same room as it.


*And there’s a whole other argument to have about the gender-binary-imposition inherent in having a “women’s” organisation

Edited to add:  This just keeps happening to me.  I had this post all ready to go (bumped a day due to fantastic, blatant double standards in the justice system) and this pops up on the reader:  a press release from NCW (that’s 8 so far!) about our report to CEDAW.

Maybe now the UN has mentioned that whole icky abortion thing, NCW can be bothered to do something about it.


  1. thelittlepakeha

    how about “I need feminism because I’m not a middle class cis woman”

    Oh wait I seem to have an extra word in there.

  2. altplay

    I went to one of their meetings once, I really wanted to join a local feminist group to actually DO something. I’m 42 and I swear I was the youngest in the room by 20 years bar one other woman, who was from the girl scouts. And they were ALL WHITE. I intended on going back at least one more time but they never emailed me to let me know when the next meeting was. I guess they expected me to figure it out. If they’re that incompetent I really can’t be bothered.

    • QoT

      I’ve heard it’s also very difficult to become an individual member, vs. attending as a representative of an affiliated group. Of course then the affiliated groups will have their own priorities and sign-off processes in order to support any action by NCW …it’s not screaming “effective, on-to-it activist organisation” to me. Except for the jarringly-different tone and use of social media.

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