19 Jan 2017

Why Kiwis are joining the Women’s March

3:03 pm on 19 January 2017

Ahead of Saturday's Women's March on Washington, Cindy Buell of the Auckland chapter tells us what the global movement means to New Zealand.

Women in the US protest Donald Trump.

Women in the US protest Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

Women in the US protest Donald Trump.

Photo: AFP

On Saturday 21st, over a million demonstrators around the world will join the Women’s March on Washington and, thanks to the international dateline, the New Zealand marches will kick things off.

The grassroots movement supporting women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and equality in the wake of the Trump inauguration began with a single march planned in Washington, but has quickly gone global to include 151 cities in 58 countries outside of the US.

New Zealand, ever the early bird, will be the first and with chapters in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, hundreds are expected to attend nationwide.

Though the event is timed to coincide with the Presidential inauguration, Cindy Buell, an organiser of the Auckland chapter of the march, stresses that the march is not a protest, nor is it even directly about Donald Trump.

Rather, she says, the march is a chance for women to peacefully make their voices heard, to promote and celebrate human rights and to bring together a community that believes in actively and positively protecting the values that, at present, are more important than ever.

We spoke to Buell, a California ex-pat who has lived in New Zealand for the past 12 years, about what the Women’s March is, why Kiwi’s are going, and what to expect on Saturday.


What is the purpose of the Women's March?

When we first started this there were four basic tenants, if you will, and it was the acronym HERS. And so it was H for health: women to have autonomy in their reproductive health.

E for economy: women are really underrepresented in the economy, we don't get equal pay for equal work - it's true for New Zealand as well, we really need to make stronger strides - and we've been kind of at this sticking point for several decades of women at being 75 percent pay for equal work.

R for representation: New Zealand is probably one of the strongest examples of women in government in the whole world. When I moved here the top four people in government were all women, and that was quite remarkable. But we're still underrepresented for a gender that's 51 percent of the population. In the US we're only 17 percent of the representation.

So health, economy, representation and S for safety: so that every woman feels safe and that we don't have victim blaming for victims of rape. Women have the right to feel safe, and I mean everybody does.

Is your involvement a reaction to the results of the American election?

Yes it is. I think we've kind of been moving in this direction where, even with Barack Obama in charge, women's rights have been stripped away little by little and so it's really time to just take a stand. And I think that this is really a reaction for all of us, to really want to do something. That anxiety level - you're looking at it and you go "I'm so far away. I really want to do something. I can't go to Washington, what can we do?". So that's why we're doing it out here and all around the world.

Why is it important for people in New Zealand to get involved?

I think that it's always important for people to get involved with causes and social issues that impact them and that they feel strongly about. And this is not just an American thing, this is equality for everyone throughout the world. You know, the states happens to be a pretty big chunk of that with 340 million people but even New Zealand with only 4 million people, we have the need for equality here in this country as well.

I think Kiwis are very strong in their social fabric and I don't think people are going to start acting like Donald Trump, heaven forbid. But I think that there already is some of that social injustice here and we just need to point it out and we need to turn it around

With the inauguration so close do you think that people are starting to take these issues more seriously?

Yes. I think that the anxiety level is rapidly rising. You know there was that initial stunned response after the election because it took everybody by surprise: Americans, people around the world, even Donald Trump. And I think that has that started kind of filtering through, and we see the reality of Barack Obama giving his farewell speech and the inauguration coming up this weekend. I think we're saying "ok if not now, when?".

What has the response been like so far?

Lots and lots of excitement and enthusiasm. We've got nearly 400 people registered for the Auckland march alone. People are pretty passionate about this.

What will happen at the march?

We will be meeting in front of the US consulate at 10:30 in the morning down on Customs Street, and then our march will go up Queen Street, cross diagonally at Wellesley, through Aotea Square and up to Myers Park. When we get to Myers Park we'll begin our speakers. Alison Mau is our MC and also one of the speakers, as well as Tracey Barnett who is an American-Kiwi journalist, Jacinda Ardern who is a Labour MP, and than Pani Farvid, a lecturer at AUT.

Can anybody attend the march? Will it be family friendly?

Yes. I'm a grandmother and my grandchildren are coming, my sons have volunteered to be safety officers. We have women coming from Hamilton and Northland, people are bringing their whole families, a lot of husbands, a lot of sons. Men and women. You know women's rights and women's equality is important in every family because if a woman is not getting paid what she's worth, that affects the income of the entire family, not just her.