Fighting complacency and retrogression: reawakening gender equity activism In New Zealand
New Zealand enjoys an impressive reputation for gender equality. It was the first self- governing nation to grant women’s suffrage in 1893 and scores highly in international indexes such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap at seventh of 136 countries. In recent political history women held the top four constitutional positions: Prime Minister, Governor General, Attorney-General and Chief Justice, for a short period of time. Yet as feminist academic Prue Hyman (2010) notes, New Zealand has moved from a relatively equal society to one of its most unequal in terms of earnings and income. This paper explores the recent mobilisation of feminist civil society and female-dominated trade unions in New Zealand who are beginning to collectively advocate and litigate on human rights such as equal pay. They are using the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to harness their frustration, benchmark progress and hold the State party to account for implementation of women’s rights and to prevent retrogression. The paper explores the re-awakening of women’s activism around social and economic rights in a nation with a strong self-regard for its international reputation in progressing gender equality. The paper uses data collected from New Zealand's seven periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Committee's concluding observations and responses to successive governments in relation to Article 11, relating to equal pay and pay equity. It analyses the ebbs and flows of political will and explores the patterns of complacency, frustration and now mobilisation by women's civil society groups who are pressing the case for women’s human rights.