By Heidi Bernard, year 13 student
It is somewhat frightening to look back on the original role of women in New Zealand society. It was not long ago that a woman’s role was effectively purposeless; she was an object, existing to be used at the will of her husband and father. Society relegated females to the domestic sphere, and the obedient woman never ventured beyond. It seems that the gears of change would never have begun to turn if women had not found a way to be bold.
When International Women’s Day calls us to “be bold for change,” it directs us to one of the most simple, yet effective ways in which we can move towards creating equal roles for men and women in our society. Up until recently, boldness was not a trait women were believed to possess. Delicacy was seen as an intrinsically feminine quality; the idea of women having physical or emotional strength was dismissed as preposterous. This perception of women was a strong factor that inhibited progress in their societal position. For example, politicians who opposed the enfranchisement of New Zealand women in the late 1800s argued that women were too weak to cope with the complex political scene. Prime Minister Richard Seddon even accused women of recklessly supporting radical policies, insinuating that they were too emotionally driven to vote responsibly.
It is certainly evident that progress has been made since this time; New Zealand women can now work, vote and even stand for office. However, the stigma that women’s capabilities fall short of those of men continues to linger, albeit with some subtlety. Like the Women’s Suffrage campaigners of New Zealand who actively involved themselves in the nation’s politics, who confronted influential male politicians with their demands for enfranchisement and who therefore firmly challenged the entire “weak” female stereotype, the women fighting for social advancement today must also give a display of boldness.
In encouraging campaigners to be “bold,” International Women’s Day provides a message that can continue to resonate with us even when the day’s activities are complete. In order to contribute to a change in the position of women in society, one does not have to initiate a large-scale political campaign or march through the streets of central Auckland. A display of boldness can be as simple as correcting sexist language and terms that further enforce stereotypes, such as “lady-like.” It could be choosing to donate to organisations that protect women against domestic violence. Being bold is becoming invested in making a positive difference in the role of women, and actively pursuing this goal, in spite of any opposition one might face. When International Women’s Day is marked with a mere presentation of flowers, little change can be made. However, when one allows this day to inspire boldness in them, and maintains this boldness in every day that follows, International Women’s Day becomes truly powerful in changing women’s role in society for the better.