Women of Influence: Feminism has been around for over 150 years, and it's still needed

"I know I'm not the only person that came to feminism later in life," says Anna Guenther.
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"I know I'm not the only person that came to feminism later in life," says Anna Guenther.

OPINION: I never thought I was a feminist

A few years after I started PledgeMe, I was asked to speak at a conference on the Future of Feminism.

My response to the event organiser was immediate: "I'm not a feminist, but my boyfriend is. I'm a humanist." I asked if she would like him to come and speak instead. She unsurprisingly said no. But she did ask me to come and do a talk on why I wasn't a feminist. 

That's when the crowdsourcing of opinions and facts started. 

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Anyone that knows me knows when I have a big question to answer I get input from the people around me. That makes my decisions slower, but in the end pretty robust. So I had conversations with my boyfriend of the time, my friends, and my advisors. Slowly, I came to realise that:

Humanism is not a thing in relation to gender equality. Really, it's not. I couldn't call myself that. Humanism is a completely different area of ideology around religion, not gender or equality at all.

The definition of feminism isn't about hating men. The definition of feminism is focused on gender equality - not just for privileged women like me, but for everyone. And I most certainly was a feminist.

I know I'm not the only person that came to feminism later in life. There are a lot of men and women who think they aren't feminists, or that they're part time feminists in the case of some of our Members of Parliament. I hope this article speaks to you because sadly feminism is still very much needed in politics and everyday life.

Three things made me realise that feminism is still important:

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First, women are dying. All the time. Because of our gender.

Women are dying because of domestic violence. They are dying because they are unable to access safe abortions. One woman dies every 11 minutes because of an unsafe abortion in the world. The maternal mortality rate has doubled in Texas in the last few years. Closer to home, abortion is still considered a criminal offence under the Crimes Act in Aotearoa.

In New Zealand, we are also number one in the OECD for rates of domestic violence.

In one of my conversations with an advisor, I talked about my best friend from high school. She's famous in New Zealand now, not because of her economic intellect (as she should be) but because she was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Her photo, smiling and beautiful, is often splashed across the media. Every time I see her face I'm reminded why feminism is so important. In a lot of respects, I'm a feminist for Sophie.

Second, women are graduating in higher numbers than ever before. Sixty-four percent of university graduates are women. But we're still not going up "the ladder" at the same rate as men. Nowhere near. Because the work we do isn't valued the same as men, both in the office and in the home.

This is shown in the gender pay gap. Last month, a historic pay equity case found that aged care workers in New Zealand had been underpaid because their workforce was predominantly women. To help put this right, the government has committed to pay rises of between 19-49% for 55,000 workers, over the next five years.

Research shows that a majority of the pay gap can come down to unconscious bias from the employer and the employee, from recruitment to leadership advancement. One landmark study showed that women MBA graduates at Carnegie Mellon earned 7.6 per cent less in their first roles out of study.

The pay gap didn't relate to their starting offer but their willingness to negotiate, even though, negotiation was a topic they studied. Over a lifetime this aggregated to $1 million in lost earnings.

But the work women do isn't only being undervalued in the workplace.

Emotional labour and work at home aren't valued either. Taking time to have and raise children isn't valued as part of your CV, or generally in our society and economy. We extol the importance of caring for children, but activists have had to fight for every hour of paid parental leave, every hour of publicly funded early childhood education, every dollar of income support for parents.

There's a big gap between the social rhetoric about the value of parenting and the structural support for it.

Structural sexism runs deep, and is often hard to pinpoint. The patriarchy isn't just stopping women from solving gender inequality, it's stopping everyone from leaning in, leaning out, and getting rid of the ladder.

Finally, feminism isn't just about me. It's not about the most privileged with the most opportunities.

Feminism is, and always should be, intersectional. It acknowledges that gender is just one part of identity that can disadvantage us in our current structures. So, if I'm fighting for equality for the genders, I need to learn how to be a good ally to those who are excluded for more than their gender. And often, that means shutting up and listening.

According to the World Economic Forum, it's going to take 80 years for women to have equality in the OECD.

We all need to identify as feminists so we can improve the system for everyone. And let's make this change now. Because - yes - we all want things to be better for our kids, but for that to happen we need things to be better now for all women, our sisters, our mothers, our grandmothers.

I'm a feminist now because I now understand not only what it means, but why it's still important.

Women do not experience equality with men, neither in our ability to live in this world, nor in how we are valued by society.

- Anna Guenther co-founded PledgeMe, New Zealand's first crowdfunding platform. 

 - Stuff

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