International Women’s Day Speech

National President Bokyong Mun was invited to give a speech at the International Women’s Day lunch, hosted in Wellington on the 8 March 2018. Read below for the speech that she presented, and the challenge that she leaves us all!:

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the improvements and great lengths that we have achieved all over the world in stride for gender equality and the empowerment of women. However it also serves as a reminder – a reminder of the challenges and issues that women still face everywhere they go.

But I want to ask, what are the different challenges that women face today? What does it really mean for women to be empowered, and what does this mean in the 2018 context of Aotearoa New Zealand? To me my biggest frustration is that the perspective and experiences of being a woman are often overlooked when considering women’s issues in New Zealand.

My parents immigrated from South Korea and I was lucky enough to be born on the North Shore in Auckland here in New Zealand. I however grew up in a small town called Balclutha, about an hour away from Dunedin surrounded by a farming community and a beautiful river for jumping into on summer days.

The reality is that our identity is not only made up of our gender, but also our ethnicity, cultural background, upbringing and experiences that we have had. Being a woman means something different to every single one of us.

Bokyong Mun (UN Youth National President) with President of the United Nations Association of NZ, Joy Dunseath

 

To me, women empowerment means much more than the need to bridge the gender pay gap, or the right for me to breastfeed in public, although these are all very important things. To me it means not facing discrimination from law firms because I don’t have blonde hair, as well as not having my worth judged on my looks to begin with. It means that I am able to talk to my mother freely in public in Korean without people telling us to go home, and not have people tell me that I am not beautiful because of the size of my eyes. It means people no longer expecting me to behave a certain way, just because that is how Asian women are portrayed to be in popular culture.

New Zealand is my home, however too often people forget how rich and diverse our multicultural country is. People assume that I didn’t feel pride when we won the Rugby World Cup in 2011, or that I didn’t cry because it was my neighbour’s homes that had been devastated by the Canterbury Earthquakes. To me, International Women’s Day is important because it gives me the chance to reflect on what it means to be me – a woman that makes up a part of the multicultural society that is Aotearoa New Zealand today.  

Through my role in United Nations Youth, I have met hundreds of young New Zealanders, who all have a different, but equally valuable definition of what it means to be a woman. For many youth today, conflicts and confusion around our identity plays a big part in our daily lives. But it is through hearing these stories of my peers that I have also learnt not to be ashamed of my identity, to strive for my aspirations, and realise that it is the differences among us that make us stronger as a collective.”

International Women’s Day

In a world first, New Zealand women won the right to vote in parliamentary elections in 1893. Since then, the role women play in society across the world has evolved dramatically, with women entering academia, the workforce and taking control of their own destinies in a way which was previously impossible.

In 2017, New Zealand voted in its third female Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who will inspire a generation of young women. However, the simple fact of having a high-achieving, confident and respected woman in a top leadership position can too easily overshadow the multitude of issues which women face across the globe. The gender pay gap, gender-based violence, discrimination, workplace harassment and child marriage are among a plethora of challenges which women face every day. While these issues remain present in developed countries such as New Zealand, they are often felt more sharply by women with access to fewer resources, limited education, or who live without basic rights and protections. Therefore, on International Women’s Day, it is important to highlight the monumental achievements of some lesser-known women’s rights activists and leaders, who campaign for rights and freedoms for women, just as Kate Sheppard fought for New Zealand women’s right to vote in the 1890s.

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Adern and suffragette Kate Sheppard- Image from stuff.co.nz

 

Across Iran, women risk prosecution, fines and imprisonment by violating the state’s gender-based dress codes in protest. In the United States of America and across the world, the #metoo movement has brought to light the extent of sexual violence and harassment which continues to permeate developed societies in the 21st Century, affecting even the most powerful and privileged of women. In 2011, a woman was arrested for doing something which millions of women across the globe do every day without incident. Manal al-Sharif was arrested for driving a car, which violated Saudi Arabia’s strict gender norms. She too began a social media movement, which brought the laws restricting women’s freedoms in Saudi Arabia to the forefront of the world’s minds. It is a reminder that there is still a huge amount of work to be done before gender parity can be achieved.

When women in the 1800s campaigned for the right to vote, it must have seemed like an impossible task. For al-Sharif and many other human rights activists like her, trying to improve women’s rights in Saudi Arabia may have felt futile. However, in 2017, the Saudi King announced that, from mid-2018, Saudi women would be granted driver licences and be able to legally drive, a victory for al-Sharif and others like her, who fought for what they believed in. International Women’s Day provides the opportunity for young people to examine their place in society and the remarkable achievements of their predecessors, who played such a vital role in shaping the societies we live in. 

 

 

By Grace Thurlow