Many people don’t vote for National because they don’t like their economic policies, which favour the rich and hurt the poor. But it’s also important to understand that National creates policies and a social environment that is bad for women.
Many of the policies that National has created over its last two terms in government worsen women’s position. For example, they cut the training allowance for solo mothers on the Domestic Purposes Benefit, even though their own social welfare minister, Paula Bennett, used this benefit herself when she was on welfare. This is known as ‘pulling the ladder up after yourself’. Over the last year, they’ve also created policies that mean that WINZ is constantly checking up on solo mothers and trying to force them into work, even if they’re already in jobs, as many are. These women are harassed by WINZ workers and forced to come into the office for long, tedious appointments that don’t help them to find jobs.
National has also created policy that means that innocent women can have their benefits cut if their partners commit benefit fraud. National is more prone to abusing women on social welfare in this way because, in order to trick poor people into voting for them, and against their own interests, they have to create a climate of fear, dividing sections of the poor up and turning them against each other. They try to make the working poor believe that the poor who are on social welfare are their enemies. To follow through on this, they have to create policies that punish the poor on social welfare, so it looks like they’re ‘protecting the interests’ of the working poor. Many of those who need social welfare are women, so they’re on the receiving end of these unjust policies.
Another way in which National hurts women is through the basic sexism of their outlook on society. For example, National has close ties with Cameron Slater, the blogger who accused a woman who was almost raped by a Malaysian diplomat of only complaining because she was a ‘feminist’. They also failed to investigate this case properly until they were forced to by media interest. National delisted domestic violence from the crimes that New Zealand keeps statistics on, and attacked Labour’s attempts to have an equal number of male and female MPs in parliament – an attack that made Labour water down its policy.
Finally, National will always put the interests of the rich ahead of the interests of women whose rights need protecting. For example, they ignored the fact that one of their most generous donors had a record of domestic violence, and accorded him privileges he probably shouldn’t have received (Labour also received donations from this man). National supports employment policies like creating more casual workers, these workers have no guaranteed hours and almost no rights, as their hours can be slashed at will without a good reason being given. Casual workers are often women who are unable to work full time as they care for children or other family members. It suits National to have a big workforce of poorly paid workers with hardly any rights, as their rich friends will like this pool of cheap, flexible labour. Over the last few years, the women who make up the bulk of the workers in low paid jobs such as care work and cleaning have struggled for better pay and conditions, only for National to refuse to help them.
Women can stick together and fight against National and its policies. Oppressing women benefits the rich, because it creates a big pool of people who will work for low wages and don’t have the emotional strength or time to defend themselves. It’s important to think about how National creates an environment that benefits the rich not just by creating legislation that makes many people poorer and less powerful, but how they specifically try to fool people into voting for them by turning the working poor against those on welfare, and men against women.