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The Women of New Zealand

Postscript: Since 1940

page 187

Postscript: Since 1940

It has not been found possible to include references to this postscript in the index which is reproduced from the original edition.

It is More than twenty years since this book was first published. But twenty years is a short span in the life of a country; and if the position of women in New Zealand has not in that period altered in any spectacular way, that is not to be wondered at nor greatly deplored. There were spectacular advances in the past: the success of the Women's Franchise Movement in 1893; the, possibly undesigned, admission of women to full membership of the university in the seventies. For the most part, however, the advancement of the women of New Zealand into a wider and fuller life has been quiet and largely unremarked (and in line with that of women in most other countries). And it has been built on the devoted pioneering work of those women of the late years of last century and the early years of this, mentioned in chapter 6.

Properly, the vast majority of New Zealand women find their careers in marriage, and most regard this as a full-time occupation. War conditions, however, inevitably tempted many to retain their jobs after marriage, and others, already married, to return to theirs. The number page 188of women in industry is steadily increasing, and this is certainly not wholly accounted for by the increase in the total population. It is probably the chief reason for the growing shortage of domestic help in private houses (for private domestic service is still without benefit of Union rule); and this in turn probably explains, at least in part, the improved attitude of public opinion towards the "amenities" desirable, if not altogether necessary, in household equipment. It would appear, from the latest figures available, that well over half the houses of New Zealand now have, for example, refrigerators, and that even more have washing-machines. No doubt most of these are in the towns and cities; but even in the country many houses, individually or in groups, have generating plants; and the rapid development of public electric works and supply may give soundly based hope for the lightening of labour to many country women still working in comparatively primitive conditions.

During the 1939-1945 war women became eligible for enlistment in all three services of the armed forces; and later the WRNZNS, the NZWRAC, and the WRNZAF, all became permanent parts of the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force. The aggregate number of service women rose sharply from 18 in 1940 to a peak of 7942 in 1944, declined to 435 in 1948, and since then has fluctuated by several hundreds from year to year, standing in 1958, according to the latest Official Year Book, at 619. They were not sent overseas; but if war had reached this country directly no doubt they would have been given such semi-combatant duties as were performed by women in England and elsewhere.

page 189

Applications by women for enrolment in the Police Force were invited early in 1939, and towards the end of 1941 the first 10 trainees took up their duties. Women police now number about 50, stationed in eleven of the larger cities. They are concerned mainly with work among women and children, but some few find employment in the C.I.B.

It would seem that there is now no trade or profession absolutely closed to women in New Zealand, though prejudice may still be a factor in keeping their ranks thin in some of the "higher" professions, such as medicine and the law. The full medical course at the University of Otage is, like all other university courses, open to women, as is that in dentistry; but the numbers of girls taking advantage of these opportunities are not large, averaging about 50 in a total of 520 medical students, and only about 5 in a total of 140 students of dentistry. The Government's School Dental Service, however, provides occupation for many girls who, after a two-year course of training, are posted to dental clinics in the primary schools. Many of them no doubt marry and may be lost to the service; but the number in training at any one time being about 400, their places are soon filled.

Law still attracts a few women students to degree courses each year; architecture a very few. And the founding of the Library School in 1946 meant opportunities for a restricted number of students to train for a profession the full demands of which are at last being recognized in New Zealand. Many women find in this work a useful and satisfying career.

It is pleasing to note that all the arts—music, drama, page 190literature, and painting—have over the last few years been greatly encouraged, and that women have shared fully the help afforded by succeeding governments. Bursaries in music, drama, ballet, and painting, give opportunities for the furthering of study and training overseas and at home; the New Zealand Literary Fund makes grants which enable writers to carry out approved work; and the National Orchestra, that brave and most movingly successful venture, formed under the NZBS in 1946, allows women as well as men to make of their art a full-time profession in a way more satisfying than was ever before possible. And the heads of the Broadcasting Service are, most laudably, not deterred by an annual excess of expenditure over receipts. The number of women (and men) who are thus in every sense profitably employed is necessarily small, membership of the Orchestra varying, but being generally not more than 70. About one in four is a woman. But the fillip given to music and to musical appreciation by its foundation and its performances has been great. Already, smaller orchestras and groups of instrumental players have been formed in many places (the Universities deserve their meed of gratitude for these), a Junior National Orchestra is in its second year, and the formation of city symphony orchestras may with some confidence be looked for in the immediate future. The position complained of on page 163 has been largely, and is likely to be increasingly remedied.

In the other arts no more can be said here than that women continue to do good work. Among the painters none approaches the stature of Frances Hodgkins, who died page 191in 1947; and women writers have, I think it is true to say, not kept pace with men in the development of New Zealand literature that has been notable during the last twenty years. An exception to this perhaps too broad generalization should be mentioned: Janet Frame, who published in 1951 The Lagoon, a volume of short stories, and in 1957 Owls do Cry, a brilliant, profoundly moving, and profoundly disturbing, novel, remarkable both for its subject matter and for its literary quality. Readers are, however, referred to Mr E. H. McCormick's admirable short survey, New Zealand Literature, which makes further comment here superfluous.

For whatever reason women in New Zealand have been slow to accept the opportunities offered them of taking their part in public life. There is still perhaps too much novelty, even notoriety, about a woman's appearing in a position of authority and influence—except, of course, in spheres which are traditionally women's, such as nursing, for example, and teaching. There are at present only three women representatives in Parliament (one of them, notably, a member of the Maori race), their number having been reduced from four by the recent death of the member for Hamilton.

By an act passed in 1942 it was made possible for women to serve on juries—possible but not obligatory. Since that date women between the ages of 25 and 60 who would be liable for service if they were men may apply to have their names placed on the jury list. But it was only during the early months of 1960 that a woman was called for service and was actually empanelled as a juror in the Supreme Court. It is worthy to note that she so greatly page 192impressed her fellow-jurors (all men) by her bearing and capability, that for the second case that came before them they unanimously elected her their forewoman. Her example has since been followed by at least one other woman; and it may be hoped that before long a woman juror will be accepted as a normality, and without the rather deplorable flourish of Society trumpets that greeted this pioneering effort. Descriptions of the dress worn by the woman concerned subtly belittled the occasion, in a way that neither she nor the occasion deserved. There are as yet no women magistrates.

A few women have been appointed to official positions overseas. There is a woman attache in the office of the High Commissioner in Canberra, another in the New Zealand Embassy in Paris. A woman is First Secretary in the High Commissioner's office in London, and another Third Secretary in Malaya. More noteworthy is the fact that when in 1949 a New Zealand Legation was opened in Paris it was headed by a woman Chargé d'Affaires. She filled the position with distinction; and in 1955, on the Legation's being raised to the status of a Ministry, her services were retained, as Minister, until the following year when she was succeeded by a man.

There are women on School Committees and on Education Boards and on some other local bodies, but far too few; and far too few, considering the large numbers of women students, on University Councils. Marriage and its responsibilities are not enough to account for this—there should be more women in the higher age-groups capable of and willing to serve in such ways. There is altogether too much indifference in the matter among page 193both women and men. Possibly some promise for the future lies in the fact that during the last few years younger women have been coming forward, taking a lead in founding Play Centres, and in Family Planning, and in moves towards the betterment of maternity services. Admittedly these are realms in which the regiment of women is least likely to be considered monstrous. Apart, nevertheless, from the intrinsically good immediate results achieved, an admirable training ground is in these ways provided for work in wider provinces, and another step is taken, forward towards the forts of prejudice (in women as well as men), which may with growing clearness be seen to be not entirely inexpugnable.

June 1960