New Zealand needs more women in leadership roles, and support for those women who step up, says former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Clark, who now heads the United Nations’ development programme, says she believes that elected bodies should look like the people they represent.
“Not look like some segment of the society, which doesn’t then share the perspectives of a much boarder cross-section,” she says, speaking at Tedx in Auckland.
When women are not in positions of power, issues that matter to women such as reproductive healthcare tend not to be represented, she says.
“In my view, if we had more at these top tables … these things would start to become rather more important, and I’ll give you an example of the kind of difference which having a lot of women in decision making can make,” Clark says.
“[In India] when you look at the councils led by women as opposed to the councils led by guys, the ones led by women are 60 percent more likely to prioritise clean and safe drinking water as a priority for their area.”
However Clark admits that it’s not easy getting into those positions.
“It probably does help on the journey to leadership to be born first in the family and not have any brothers, but we tend not to have much control over that,” she says.
“I also had parents who really believed in me and backed me all the way … And so I went through life of this background of believing that girls could do anything.”
There are structural factors as well as personal factors, however, and Clark says much of her work as Minister of Health, and then Prime Minister, was designed to remove some of the structural barriers.
For example, she says, she introduced paid parental leave, 20 hours of free childhood education, and extended annual holidays from three weeks to four.
While women need to push for positions in leadership, Clark says they also need support when they get there.
“It is a rallying cry to support those women who are prepared to stand up and walk over burning coals to make a difference for other women, and men and families.”