Club's no-woman code prompts boycott

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2012

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A partner in a Napier legal firm is boycotting the annual Law Society Christmas party because it is being held at a club that will not allow women as members.

Alison McEwan, of Langley Twigg Law, recently tweeted: "The Law Society is having their annual Xmas do at Hawke's Bay Club which does not allow female members - so I won't go."

Ms McEwan was reluctant to talk to The Dominion Post because two of her senior partners were "stalwarts" of the club, but she did say: "Women had to fight to get the vote. I'm not prepared to let that part of our history go, I'm not prepared to take that for granted."

President Alan Cooper confirmed that the Hawke's Bay Club, established in 1863, had never had a female member.

"It's been this way for 150 years," he said. "Why would a woman want to be a member?"

He said it was not deliberate discrimination. "There's areas of the club where you can entertain women."

Women can attend functions hosted at the club but cannot enter the "members-only" bar, except on Saturdays. The Hawke's Bay Law Society party is on a Friday.

If the party wound up in the members-only bar, women and non-members would not be allowed inside, Mr Cooper said.

Another Napier lawyer, Nicola Graham, agreed that the rules were "archaic", and she would not want to be a member of the club, but it would not put her off attending the function.

Jonathan Krebs, president of the Hawke's Bay branch of the Law Society, said it held functions at the club "from time to time". About half of the 90 people attending would be women.

He was sorry Ms McEwan would not attend because of how the owners operated their private club.

"Nonetheless, it is a matter which she may more usefully take up with the club itself rather than publicly criticising a professional organisation which simply chooses to hire the building."

Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott said it did not matter that the club excluded women.

"I personally support the club because I like the fact that the members who pay into it are supporting the fabric of a heritage building in our city."

The original clubrooms were demolished in 1904, with the existing building opening in 1906. It survived the 1931 earthquake and fire that ravaged the city.

Women's Affairs Minister Jo Goodhew said the Government promoted "lawful and anti-discriminatory practices in public life" but there were still a few private organisations that had restrictions based on gender.

"I believe these clubs miss out by not including women," she said.

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- The Dominion Post

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