Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University of Wellington Students Association. Vol 40 No. 15. July 4 1977
The third United Womens Convention, held in Christchurch from 4-6 June 1977 came soon after the publication of the report of the Royal Commission of Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion. The main speaker at the Convention was Dr Helen Marieskind, Professor of Public Health at the State University in New York. In her well-informed and clear address, she argued that the movement for women's rights had, historically, always been accompanied by agitation for better health care. She attacked the anti-abortion recommendations of the Royal Commission's report. She noted, for example, that when the Royal Commission recommended the use of the morning-after pill to women who had been raped the alternative to abortion they do not tell us that it is effective in only 60% of cases and that the drug contained in the morning after pill results in a high incidence of vaginal cancer in female off-spring. There was strong opposition to the Royal Commission's report at the Convention. A resolution deploring the abortion recommendations of the Royal Commission and asserting that the decision to end an unwanted pregnancy must be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor was passed by 1087 votes for to 120 against.
Dr Marieskind also pointed to the absurdity of the Government's decision to reduce the Domestic Purposes Benefit. New Zealand has the third highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrialised world. A reduced DPB, though contraceptive laws, and lack of child-care facilities can only add up to misery and hardship for so many women.
The Health-care system, she concluded, reflected a society's economic, political and social system. In our system, it is used to maintain the definition of women as inferior, sickly, weak and fragile — suitable for only certain types of work. She noted, though, that this definition did not include working-class and peasant women, who were assumed to be as strong as workhorses.
Rosemary Roland, an organiser of the first United Womens Convention in Auckland in 1973, also gave a thoughtful speech. She highlighted the dilemas that face the women's movement, especially its radical section. Very little has been achieved for women in the last few years, she pointed out, despite the two conventions held. Even within the women's movement, there were those working against women's interests and she pointed to three groups: those who push a church morality, those who oppose abortion, and those who sanctify the nuclear family. Her address raised the question of the cause of women's oppression: was it men, who 'hold the key positions of power and use that power to manipulate their positions to their own advantage', or was it the whole system, political, economic and social? "We don't want an equal slice of the pie" she said. "We believe the pie is rotten and we want to cook another". The present system is based on competition and hatred, the women's movement must work towards the beginning of co-operation.