Last night, LATE at the Museum held another stellar talk. This time with Helen Clark as she discussed her life, career, and new book, Women, Equality, Power with interviewer Noelle McCarthy. Here’s a wrap up of the night’s highlights, zingy quotes, and shocking facts:

Cutting Off The Oxygen To Gendered Criticism

According to Clark, all the significant barriers that she faced while being Prime Minister were gendered. Who could forget the fixation people had with her voice, hair, and clothes? Or the fact that some labelled her as a ‘mad cow’ and felt that she created a ‘feminist mafia’ in parliament? Here, she realized that while criticism is part of the territory as a politician, she also needed to sift and sort through criticism to see what’s relevant and meaningful. The gendered criticism never made the cut and, in fact, she was worried about ‘giving oxygen’ to it and potentially distracting herself and others from the larger issues facing the country. She acknowledged that it’s a stark contrast to Jacinda Ardern’s current approach of tackling gender criticism and calling people out on their sexist comments – hello, Mark Richardson?

Smashing The Glass Ceiling – Or Thick Layer Of Men?

Clark spoke about her unsuccessful bid for General Secretary at the UN and coming face-to-face with the notorious glass ceiling, which she jokingly referred to as a ‘thick layer of men’ – being careful of where she placed the word ‘thick’ in the sentence! Despite receiving gendered criticism while she was a politician in NZ, she states that she never encountered a glass ceiling that she couldn’t crack until her time at the UN. Noting that it was mainly due to the fact that only 7.2% of heads of state globally are women – many countries cannot grapple with the idea of a woman in power.

‘Laying The Red Carpet Yourself And Kicking The Door Down’

Critical mass – the idea of having a strong number of women in leadership roles – was a key concept last night. Besides the fact that it’s the right thing to do, Clark argues that critical mass is necessary because, otherwise, women are ‘out of sight and out of mind’ and ‘decisions about us are made without us’. To get to these leadership roles, McCarthy notes that women have been told they just need to ‘lean in’ (be better, work harder), but there’s a growing realization that structural inequalities, such as the glass ceiling, are holding women back. Clark agreed that it’s a long hard road to the top and that nobody is going to lay down the red carpet for a young woman – you’re going to have the lay carpet yourself and kick the door down.

Fragile Gains On Women’s Rights

What lessons can NZ learn from the U.S. election and its aftermath? Firstly, Clark states that any gains on women’s rights are fragile – policies related to women are the first to be impacted by a change of government. For example, the global gag rule was quickly reinstated once Trump became president. Secondly, civil society must then be on constant alert and be able to mobilize themselves to respond to such change and we’re seeing some of that already with the Women’s March and #MeToo movement.

Male allies – We Need You

Globally, 3 out of 4 hours of unpaid work are done by women. This means that if want to make strides when it comes to the gender pay gap, men’s everyday life patterns need to change. Men need to take on more of the domestic work, take more parental leave, and spend more time raising their children. Yes, Clarke Gayford got a quick shout out from Helen too!

‘The Rising Tide Should Be Lifting Every Boat’

The night ended with the need for ‘inclusion’ both within NZ and globally. For example, ensuring that all people are cared for in the upcoming 5th industrial revolution and the transition to a zero-emissions economy in NZ. While globally, NZ needs to step up when countries, such as the U.S, cut funding to agencies such as the UNFPA.

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NIDHA KHAN is a public health graduate and policy student who spends her time writing about human rights, youth activism, and social issues. She’s also a lover of puns, a terrible cook, and is on a mission to hug every pug in sight. You can keep up with her antics on Instagram at @nidha01 and check out more of her work below:

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