The distance to go

On International Women's Day, let's celebrate Hawaii's comparative gender equity, but push to do better

Ikaika M Hussey

Above: Emma Nawahi led a women’s group opposing a new government which would deny voting rights to women, at the same time as women in the US were working for the vote.

Today is the 100th International Women’s Day – an opportunity to celebrate advances in gender and sex equality, but also the distance we’ve yet to traverse.

Here in Hawaii, we’re fortunate to live in a society with a rich history of strong female leaders, both ancient and modern. La‘ila‘i, Haumea, Pele, Ka‘ahumanu, Lili‘u, Nawahi (pictured above). And modern, too – Patsy Mink, Linda Lingle, our current Congressional delegation, and the leaders who are writing in our “State of Women” series.

We should be proud of our matriarchal roots, but it’s a pride that has purchase in juxtaposition with a modern economy and society which is punishing for most humans, the majority of whom are women. Mari Matsuda sums it up well:

Issues that affect working families affect women, since we have a disproportionate share of the load of keeping families going: childcare, eldercare, health care, housing, attacks on labor, disappearing pensions. All economic justice issues are women’s issues.

And Cathy Betts, head of the government’s own Commission on the Status of Women, points out that women’s rights advocates have labored for 17 years to materialize a law that would provide emergency contraceptives to survivors of sexual violence. Here’s to hoping that the Legislature will finally pass HB 411.

To take one tangible local example: the Department of Education, which is staffed predominantly with women, doesn’t offer child care or paid maternity leave for its employees. Teachers are forced to choose between providing care for their child, or to educate someone else’s child. If there were ever an institution that should know the value of paid family leave, it would be the DOE.

By contrast, our cold cousins to the south can take up to 14 weeks of paid parental leave. The Economist – not exactly the barometer of equal rights – also rated New Zealand as the best country for female workers, by examining five factors: the number of men and women respectively with tertiary education; female labour-force participation; the male-female wage gap; the proportion of women in senior jobs; and child-care costs relative to the average wage.