The importance of statistical data, according to Figure NZ’s founder and CEO Lillian Grace, is as a pointer to what we, as New Zealanders, need to ask ourselves about the state of the country and where we want it to go. “Data helps cut through the topic about what is and what has been and allows us... to move to arguing about what should be and how to get there. It can shift the conversation along.”
And as VICE celebrates the release of our 'Suffrage Series' of documentaries, it's clear that it is a conversation that needs to keep happening. Data provided to VICE by Figure NZ shows that—to choose just three examples—New Zealand women aged 25-29 suffer serious assault at nearly three times the rate of men, that the gender pay gap remains, and that an overwhelming 84 percent of one-parent families have a woman as that parent.
Data, Grace says, is not a black-and-white thing, and instead of looking to it for answers it helps us know what questions we need to ask. "What we do at Figure NZ is say, ‘Data should be a navigation tool, not an answer.’ It helps you know where to look next, who to ask questions of.”
In the post-fact contemporary world, where data is manipulated to support political narratives and fake news abounds, having access to good, reliable data is essential. “It used to be hard to share information, and now it’s easy. Because of that, so much else has changed... People can consume [more], often less-curated information, because there’s so much of it.”
Data like that presented here, Grace says, gives people an easy window into how other people live. “It helps for a few reasons. [For] those that are trying to get people to understand the situation so they can champion that cause, they can help other people to understand it. It helps people that may not have experienced things themselves to then realise what the experiences of others might be.”
As an example, she points to the number of New Zealanders who feel safe walking alone at night in their own neighbourhoods—according to a 2016 survey, just 43.6 percent of women compared to 77.1 percent of men [see below]. When she mentions that fact to men, she says, often they have no idea what she’s talking about. “[Then] you mention it to women and there’s a whole lot of, ‘Yeah, I always walk home with my keys between my knuckles in case someone attacks me.’ And it’s like two totally different worlds, where people—if they’re not exposed to what it feels like to be vulnerable in that situation—literally have no idea.”
And, as the data illustrates—and not just in the safety-at-night stakes—there are “really significant differences by gender” and Aotearoa has a long way to go before reaching true equality between men and women. "There is a massive difference," Grace says. "And that needs to shift. And clearly we’re not there yet.”