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We Checked the Receipts on New Zealand’s Self-Proclaimed Feminist Politicians

Do their voting records match the feminist grandstanding?

(image of Bill English via flickr)

It's never been more fashionable to call yourself a feminist. But for politicians claiming the label, how does their voting record square up?

Seems the latest trend in New Zealand—and global—politics is shoving a mic in the face of your local politician and asking whether they're a feminist. The strategy has had mixed results. A few resounding yeses, but also responses ranging from feigned confusion to momentary loss of comprehension ("I don't know what that word means"), to MPs who are feminist, but only certain days of the week.

But why are we still asking? If 2016 taught us anything, surely it's that grabbing for the feminist label means less than nothing when it comes to actual progress on women's rights. In a world where even Spanx - the modern day equivalent of the corset—are proudly proclaiming their feminist credentials, it pays to treat the self-adopted label with a health dose of cynicism.

In that spirit, we've decided to assess the real-world records of New Zealand's MPs, and checked their voting history on key issues affecting women.
We've selected just a few hot points regarded as central to the feminist movement: paid parental leave, sex worker rights, abortion and reproductive rights and support for single mothers. It's not a comprehensive record, but we've checked the voting and policy records of MPs to see where they stand. Feminist or not? You can decide.

Prime Minister Bill English, National

Self-proclaimed feminist?
Unclear, even to Bill himself. When asked, English said he "didn't quite know what that means".

Paid parental leave
In 2015 as Finance Minister Bill English promised to use financial veto to block the 26 weeks paid parental leave bill even if it was passed by vote, and voted against the bill. His government did increase it from 14 to 16 weeks this year.

Sex Worker Rights
Voted against the 2003 Prostitution Reform Bill which legalised sex work.
Voted for a bill in 2006 that aimed to allow local councils to ban street sex work.

Reproductive Rights
Since becoming Prime Minister English has said he is "opposed to abortion on principle", in all circumstances. Backed a law which would require girls under 16 to tell their parents if they sought an abortion, saying: ""The idea that the law allows your 12 to 14-year-old daughter to have an abortion on her own and go back to school is repugnant."

Single Mums
A mixed bag: the National Government oversaw sweeping changes to benefits that restricted grants for further study and introduced job-testing for single mothers between 2009 and 2013. In 2004 English voted against Working for Families benefits, but in 2015 increased Working for Families payments, especially for low-income families.

Labour leader Andrew Little, via flickr

Andrew Little, Labour

Self-proclaimed feminist?
We can't find any record of Little being asked the question, or making a statement either way.

Paid parental leave
Little is is currently pushing for 26 weeks paid parental leave.

Sex Worker Rights
Little was not an MP when the Prostitution Reform Bill was voted on in 2003.

Reproductive Rights
Little was not an MP when Parliament debated changes to the Care of Children Act that would require the parents of girls under 16 seeking an abortion to be informed.
In a Q&A with The Standard, he said "On abortion, I support reviewing our current law, which is nearly 40 years old."

Single Mums
Voted against the Social Security Amendment Bill that was designed to shift beneficiaries including single mothers into work, saying the policy "beat up on the most vulnerable and the poorest of our people: those who look to the State for help at a time of need, those for whom life has not delivered very good chances, and those who may have done well once but whose life's fortunes have taken a turn for the worse."

Paula Bennett with the Prime Minister, via Facebook

Paula Bennett, National

Self-proclaimed feminist?
Initially, Bennett said she was a feminist "most days". She's since clarified that she's a full-time feminist, but not of the "anti and man-hating" variety.

Paid parental leave
National voted en masse against extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks.
In 2004 Bennett supported paid parental leave for self-employed persons, and advocated for the introduction of a lump-sum payment for rural women.

Sex Worker Rights
Voted against a bill in 2006 that aimed to allow local councils to ban street sex work

Reproductive Rights
As Social Development Minister she put in place funding for free long-term contraception for parents on benefits.

Single Mums
In 2012, Bennett oversaw sweeping changes to solo-parent benefits, including the introduction of part-time work testing for sole parents of children aged five years and older and full-time work testing for sole parents of children aged 14 years and over. More reforms in 2013 included requiring solo mothers claiming a benefit to return to work when their child is 12 months old, if their older children are aged over five.
In 2009 Bennett introduced further restrictions to the training incentive allowance, that pays for single parents' further education.

Jacinda Ardern, via Facebook

Jacinda Ardern, Labour

Self-proclaimed feminist?
Yes. In 2015 she wrote a column on it, saying "In my simple worldview, if you believe in equality, you should be a feminist."

Paid parental leave
Ardern has supported Labour's proposal to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks, and written about her stance here.

Sex Worker Rights
Ardern was not an MP when parliament voted to legalise sex work in New Zealand.

Reproductive Rights
Ardern was not an MP when Parliament debated changes to the Care of Children Act that would require the parents of girls under 16 seeking an abortion to be informed.
In an AMA [ask me anything] on Reddit, she said she would "certainly support the decriminalisation of abortion".

Solo mums
Ardern spoke out against sweeping benefit reforms affecting single mothers on the benefit in 2013, saying, "This set of reforms will do absolutely nothing to improve their job prospects through either training or education, or by addressing the underlying issues of the unavailability of work, particularly work that suits their childcare needs." She voted against the Social Security Amendment Bill that introduced harsher work testing measures for beneficiaries including solo parents.

Judith Collins, via Facebook

Judith Collins, National

Self-proclaimed feminist?
Collins says she's a life-long member of the F club.

Paid parental leave
National Party voted en masse against extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks.

Sex Worker Rights
Collins voted against the Prostitution Reform Bill in 2003, saying, "In my opinion, prostitution is rape accompanied by payment—if the prostitute is lucky."
In 2006 she voted for a bill that aimed to allow local councils to ban street sex work.

Reproductive Rights
Collins backed a law which would require girls under 16 to tell their parents if they sought an abortion.

Single Mums
Voted for the Social Security Amendment Bill in 2013, which placed more work-testing requirements on beneficiaries.
As Welfare Spokeswoman in 2005, Collins advocated for single mothers to lose their benefit if they did not name the father of their child.

Metiria Turei at Auckland Women's Fiesta, image via Wikimedia Commons.

Metiria Turei, Greens

Self-proclaimed feminist?
Yes. Turei says, "I am a feminist – I work for the emancipation of women."

Paid parental leave
Turei voted to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks.

Sex Worker Rights
Voted for the 2003 Prostitution Reform Bill that legalised sex work in NZ.
Voted against a bill in 2006 that aimed to allow local councils to ban street sex work.

Reproductive Rights
Turei supports decriminalisation of abortion in New Zealand.

Single mums
Turei spoke out against sweeping benefit reforms that restricted support for single mothers in 2013, saying "Welfare reforms that punish these women for having children are a complete distraction from Government's failure to provide jobs."

Winston Peters, image via Wikimedia Commons.

Winston Peters, New Zealand First

Self-proclaimed feminist?
Winston seems deeply confused about this. When recently asked by a reporter his response was "Well, ah. Are you a macho person? I don't think so but if you want to say you are that's fine with me."

Paid Parental leave
Voted to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks.

Sex Worker Rights
Voted against the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act to legalise sex work in New Zealand

Reproductive Rights
In a conversation with Bob McCoskrie, Winston said about abortions: "our position is they should be safe, they should be legal and they should be rare." He has also said he's against decriminalisation, and in favour of the parents of women 16 and under being informed.

Single Mums
Winston voted against sweeping welfare reforms in 2012 which affected single mothers on benefits, saying, "The new measures have been designed by rich people to keep the poor and downtrodden in their place at the bottom of the heap."

Marama Fox, image via Twitter.

Marama Fox, Māori Party

Self-proclaimed feminist?
Appears Marama has not been explicitly asked—but it seems like the answer is broadly yes. In one interview she mentions, "We can see motherhood as a hindrance but for me, the ultimate feminism is to be able to be a mother and for that to be ok."

Paid parental leave
The Māori Party voted to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks.

Sex Worker Rights
Fox became an MP in 2014, well after the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act that legalised sex work in NZ.

Single mums
Fox became an MP in 2014, after sweeping changes to benefits for single mothers had been introduced—which the Māori party did support.
On the subject of vulnerable families, Fox threatened to walk away from the Government coalition over legislation that didn't ensure Māori children would be placed with whanau when the state removed them from their home.

Gerry Brownlee (front), image via Facebook.

Gerry Brownlee, National

Self-proclaimed feminist
Yes!

Paid parental leave
Voted against extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks.

Sex worker rights
Voted against the legalisation of sex work in 2003.

Reproductive rights
Unclear. Brownlee did vote against the appointment of a highly anti-abortion doctor to the Abortion Supervisory Committee in 2011

Single mums
Voted for voted for sweeping changes to benefits from 2009-2013 that restricted single mothers' access to funding for further education and placed work-testing requirements on single mothers on the benefit.

Nick Smith and a dragon, image via Facebook.

Nick Smith, National

Self-proclaimed feminist?
No record of Smith making a statement either way

Paid parental leave
National voted en masse against extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks.

Sex Worker Rights
Voted against the Prostitution Reform Bill in 2003, saying prostitution cheapened sex and was nothing more than "paid rape".
Voted for a bill in 2006 that aimed to allow local councils to ban street sex work.

Single Mums
National MPs voted for the Social Security Amendment Bill in 2013, which placed more work-testing requirements on beneficiaries.

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