Mana Wahine - the Kaupapa Inquiry Programme


Lawyer Tania Te Whenua sets out some of the wider background context to the Waitangi Tribunal's WAI 2700 Mana Wahine Kaupapa inquiry.

Whilst the campaign for gender equity in employment gathers ManaWahineincreasing momentum, for women who experience additional discrimination simply by being Māori the fight for equal treatment in employment has just begun.

Statistics demonstrating inequities faced generally by women in the workplace have been well documented.

As set out in a submission made by the CTU Women's Council to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) last year, "The lack of enforcement of the right of equal pay to work of equal value results in not only low wages but poor employment conditions, gender-based discrimination, lack of career and promotional opportunities.

“Low pay puts families under pressure and creates a new group of working poor.”

Survey upon survey reveal the once insidious bias faced by women in employment as an inescapable truth. Yet, as a society we continue to turn a blind eye to overt inequities faced by Māori workers.

Work done by groups like the Coalition for Equal Value and Equal Pay and represented to the Waitangi Tribunal's Mana Wahine Kaupapa Inquiry earlier this year bring the inequities into stark relief by noting that: “Research which focuses on inequity suffered by women is in reality a focus on Pākehā women.

“This masks the compounding discrimination suffered by women who are also Māori… whereas Pākehā women earn 15% less than their male counterparts, wāhine Māori earn 27% less than Pākehā men. In dollar terms this is a difference of a whopping $8.89 per hour. The take home point being that wāhine Māori do not simply earn less than Pākehā men and women, they earn significantly less...”

In addition a consideration of the full range of tables disclosing Crown funding to public service providers shows Māori service providers languishing at the bottom of the rung.

As an example mainstream early childhood education centres receive a 20-hour funding subsidy of up to $12.01 per hour per full-time enrolment Māori early childhood education centres (kōhanga reo) receive only $8.76 per full time equivalent, almost 30% less. This is a difference which whānau are overwhelmingly unable to make up leaving the predominantly female kōhanga reo staff obliged to work for minimum wages.

The racially discriminatory application of funding by the Crown is not limited to chronically underpaid industries such as care and education. Even the Māori Land Court receives the lowest funding of all judicial bodies and by legislative determination a judge of the Māori Land Court is entitled to the lowest salary of all judicial officers.

It is also worth noting that 25 years after the centenary of women's suffrage was celebrated, a point made back in 1993 by authors Lisa Davies and Natalie Jackson is just as relevant today, namely that “…after [over] one hundred years of contribution to the economic development of New Zealand, the employment status of Māori women does not equal that of Pākehā women.”

What is astounding is the Crown’s inert acceptance of its role in influencing this disparity.

Holding the crown accountable

For this reason, the Rūnanga of the PSA (Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Awhina) and CTU (Te Rūnanga o Ngā Kaimahi Māori o Aotearoa) are currently on the cusp of joining the Waitangi Tribunal kaupapa inquiry into issues affecting Māori women (the Mana Wahine Inquiry) to hold the Crown accountable for failing in their role as funder, procurer and regulator of employers, as well as a significant employer itself, to proactively influence employment conditions and actively protect wāhine Māori workers from inequities in employment.

The Crown for its part have made an early acknowledgement within the inquiry that “…employment issues (including pay equity and pay gaps) are also priority issues for this Government” and have intimated that those representing wāhine Māori voices such as Te Rūnanga could be invited to dialogue directly to help shape Crown policy on these issues.

This presents a massive opportunity for Te Rūnanga to influence change on behalf of its wāhine Māori members.

This has the potential to set a strong precedent for addressing similar issues affecting tāne Māori, being reminiscent of the courageous words of Te Hōnore Dame Tariana Tūria:
“We must always be prepared to speak up and speak out about things which in the end affect all of us.”

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A supplementary note about the Kaupapa Inquiry Programme

The Waitangi Tribunal set a framework for its Kaupapa Inquiry Programme in 2015 with the intent of providing "a pathway for the hearing of nationally significant claim issues that affect Māori as a whole or a section of Māori in similar ways." At the time, Tribunal chair Chief Judge Wilson Isaac noted this was the first new programme initiated by the Tribunal in the last 20 years, and that it signalled a "determination to provide access to justic for all claimants."

One of the founding claims in the present Mana Wahine Kaupapa Inquiry dates back to 1993 when a group of Māori women submitted a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal (the Mana Wahine claim) alleging that the Crown's actions and policies since 1840 have systematically discriminated against Māori women, depriving them of their spiritual, cultural, social and economic well-being which is protected by the Treaty of Waitangi. It was originally lodged by the late Dame Mira Szazy, along with another former Maori Women's Welfare League President, Dame Whina Cooper, Lady Rose Henare, Dr Irihapeti Ramsden, and representing the younger generation of the time, Donna Awatere, Ripeka Evans and Paparangi Reid.