The 38%

This is a guest post by Labour activist Sophie Rapson.

It’s been a difficult couple of years being a progressive Labour member.  On one hand a lot of constitutional change has gone through, substantial and good change to this fairly anachronistic organisation.  On the other hand, some of these changes have been fraught with politics and tainted by factional warfare, which left the outcomes of the constitutional changes less than ideal.

As a young woman, my expectation for constitutional change was gender equity provisions.  The focus where many of us wanted to see constitutional change was the level of women in caucus.  After many submissions, meetings, and Annual Conference it was decided that at least 45% of the Labour Party caucus had to be women (because apparently 50% was too difficult).  To say that I was incredibly disappointed was an understatement.

The leaders of an organisation I so greatly respected and the organisation I see as the best vehicle for social change decided that having 50% women in caucus was too high a target.  Because having 50% women in caucus in 2014 was too fast a transition and would lead to us losing the 2014 General Election.  Which appeared to be code for – some male members of the caucus would miss out and the faction numbers would be disrupted.

Instead of quitting the Party, I acknowledged that change and good, lasting change is incremental.  Politics is a long game, and good people need to stay and stick it out for the long haul.  Make sure that progressive change eventually comes.  So I accepted that my gender would be underrepresented in the Labour Party for another 3 years, oh and since the beginning of time.  Let’s not forget that women have been underrepresented forever, but no, we shouldn’t move too fast, we’ve only known about this problem for… oh wait.

So I was happy to continue and live to fight another day when I could again put a constitutional amendment up to have at least 50% women in the Labour Party caucus.

Then Shane Jones resigned and a reshuffle occurred.

Hey I thought, this might be an opportunity for improvement to the 40% women ranked caucus figure.  Maybe balance out the caucus gender mix, not expecting the world, maybe for it to remain the same.

The reshuffle resulted in a ranked caucus made up of 38% women and 62% men. (Only the first 26 out of the 34 member caucus is “ranked”).

It also contained a number of promotions for male members of caucus.  Although Nanaia Muhuta was promoted (she is now the first woman Māori caucus leader!) and Jacinda Ardern moved up one spot. The overall result was a number of woman demoted and a greater number of men promoted.

So on the eve on an election, where we are supposed to be achieving 45% women in the resultant caucus we decided to drop the level of women in the ranked caucus to 38%.  (Let’s not even discuss the unranked MPs situation.  I also haven’t addressed other diversity issues in caucus, specifically Maori and other ethnicities representation, which is a subject for a whole other rant.)

When are we going to start to realise that collectively our performance and effectiveness as representatives decreases as the caucus becomes less diverse.  Better decisions are made when a varied perspective is present.  On what planet does having over 60% of the caucus as men going to lead to good decisions.  I thought we were the party of inclusion, fairness, and equity?

I wrote this not to signal my resignation from this Party, but as an assurance to those in power that I’m going to continue to question and challenge you on this issue.  I will challenge that this issue is an election killer.  I will remind you that the number of competent women not engaging and getting involved in politics because of this bullshit will continue to increase.  Those women that we so desperately need to reach that 45% target.  Or heaven forbid, 50% one day.

I will watch with interest at how the moderating committee handles Rule 360 of the Labour Party Constitution.  At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets messed with.  But please, PLEASE prove my cynicism wrong.

Yours in solidarity
Disappointed Labour Woman

3 thoughts on “The 38%”

  1. I agree with your general point. However, I don’t think your analysis of the caucus reshuffle is correct. From what I can tell:

    3 women and 3 men were promoted by rankings or new portfolios:
    – Nanaia M (F)
    – Jacinda A (F)
    – Maryan S (F)
    – Trevor M (M)
    – Andrew L ( M)
    – Phil T (M)

    2 women and 4 men were demoted by rankings or lost portfolios:
    – Darien F (F)
    – Maryan S (F)
    – Shane J (M)
    – Chris H (M)
    – Kris F (M)
    – Rajen P (M)


  2. I too was disappointed, particularly as the caucus had fewer than 15% smokers, 10% petty thieves, 1% haemophiliacs, and 20% people who can roll their tongues. How unfair and unrepresentative the party is of various social groups!

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