Has New Zealand’s Green Party Forgotten Democracy – or Just Women’s Rights to It?

New Zealand Green Party
Green Party Protesters. Source: Jerryhattric, Flickr

Renee Gerlich describes how the New Zealand Green Party has ignored women’s voices in the rush to protect a minority of men.

Last June, when I replied to a Green Party e-mail asking to be removed from the mailing list, I didn’t expect to receive a direct reply from the co-convenor’s personal address reading “Bye bigot!”. Perhaps I was naïve, because it appears that this sort of thing is indeed the party’s modus operandi. At least when it comes to women.

The New Zealand Greens are currently in government, in a coalition with Labour and New Zealand First. In August, this government announced plans to pass the Greens’ “documents with dignity” proposals for one-step sex self-identification, into law. This will allow anyone to change the sex on their birth certificate through a one-step administrative procedure. No impact assessments or public consultations of note have been carried out.

It is men who stand to benefit from these proposals, whilst women will have to give up sex-based protections. White, heterosexual males comprise the majority of adult-to-trans people, and in New Zealand, it is men like “Kate” Weatherly and Gavin “Laurel” Hubbard who have taken titles in women’s mountain biking and weightlifting respectively; Penelopy Mansell, who is looking to join a women’s gym; Lexie Matheson who has received a knighthood for representing the LGBTQ rights while identifying as “dykie girl.” Sally Dellow is supported by Sexual Abuse Help Foundation to speak about sexual violence as a woman. It is these men who are pushing the agenda hardest for their own purposes.

Nevertheless, sex self-identification has been framed as a “feminist” cause. So it is effectively delegated to the women in the party to promote the legislative proposals and supporting ideology publicly, to answer questions, make fools of themselves and take the heat. Green Party co-leader James Shaw has managed to avoid making much in the way of public statements about sex self-identification. Meanwhile, Green Party MPs like government spokesperson for mental health Chloe Swarbrick are left to do the intellectual gymnastics, making statements like this:

“I think words lose meaning if we expand their application to include the logical opposite of their definition. Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” How does excl trans women advance women’s rights towards equality?”

To make things clear, this statement claims that words cannot incorporate mutually exclusive definitions, while simultaneously asking why men cannot be considered women.

The implications of this muddled position are well demonstrated by Green Party MP and Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter, who appeared on QandA last July, heavily pregnant. Before discussing her ambition to adopt a 50/50 quota to encourage women’s representation on public and private sector boards, she clarified that “transwomen are women,” and argued that “feminism is about equality for everyone and trans people, gender diverse people, face even more significant barriers than many women, privileged women, like myself.” She added, “The last thing we need to be doing is putting more barriers in the place of people who are already facing significant barriers, discrimination often times worse than white women might experience.” So women in New Zealand are being promised more representation on boards, while we are convinced to accept that men can be women. We won’t talk about how this has worked out for women in Mexico.

Genter and Swarbrick’s comments are not only silly, they were both made in retaliation to feminist action taken to demand public consultation on New Zealand’s sex self-identification bill, consultation which has not been carried out. Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is one MP who has been approached in person and in writing by many women looking for a sympathetic ear in government to speak with regarding their concerns about sex self-idenitification.

But as feminist activist Charlie Montague writes, “of course, people with issues with sex self-ID are almost always denied meetings with MPs.” This includes Davidson, so, on September 7, Montague attended a public meeting and asked Davidson whether she believes in women’s rights to female-only spaces — given the amount of women who have been raped and beaten by male-bodied people — there. “I’ve been ambushed!” Davidson responded. “You ambushed me! You should’ve set up a meeting with me to discuss this!” and left the meeting.

This party co-leader acts in an increasingly menacing manner. Bizarrely forgetting which side of the truth-to-power equation she currently sits on, she refers online to New Zealand feminists as “a small loud group trying to silence us. They never will.” She also does not take kindly to women who question whether it is wise to frame a medically experimental ideology as though it is indigenous: “I’ll just say this hard and loud,” she tweeted, “as tangata whenua of Aotearoa, and using the language of my whakapapa. Big big aroha to my TRANS WHĀNAU.” The force behind this message says a lot more than its content.

Green Party MP Jan Logie uses the same indigenizing strategy to promote transgenderism. Logie is justice under-secretary on domestic and sexual violence, and she spoke to QandA in December about laws that came into force early in the month, criminalising strangulation, coercion to marry and family violence not covered by “male assaults female” legislation. Bizarrely but tellingly, early in the interview, Logie reassured the public that coercion to marry does not include arranged marriage. “We’re definitely not talking about arranged marriage,” she said. “You can freely consent to arranged marriage. That’s how that works.”

Explaining new laws regarding family violence, Logie then stated that it is “particularly women and children [who]are dying as a result of this violence.” Like Genter, she then quickly undermined this statement, by ignoring the very existence of sex and sex-based violence, when asked a curly gender question. QandA presenter Corin Dann asked Logie about the backlash that had arisen in response to an article journalist Rachel Stewart wrote, critiquing trans ideology. “Should Rachel Stewart, and others, be allowed to say what they are saying?” Dann asked.

“I find this debate really sad,” Logie replied, saying that a 2007 Human Rights Commission review “found conclusively that being trans was… a natural part of human diversity. We have had non binary identities from the beginning of time, in New Zealand takatāpui; in the Pacific, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, māhū, this has been around forever.” She added,

“My concern is, and I would say to people who are looking at questioning – if they don’t understand the realities of human diversity then go and do some reading and some research, and really, this is the most marginalized community in our country, with really high rates of self harm and suicide – take a ‘do no harm’ approach. We have got to make sure that we are not persecuting or undermining people’s existence through our “exploration of ideas.””

Feminists have relayed to politicians countless times that transgender ideology is harmful. Politicians have been informed about “Karen” White, born Stephen Wood, who assaulted four women after being rehoused in a UK women’s prison. Corrections in New Zealand has admitted that, since January 2017, at least six assaults have been perpetrated by trans-identified prisoners housed in women’s prisons, most likely all male. Hormone prescriptions are increasing exponentially, to patients who self-diagnose as “trans,” while health experts cannot even define the word. Breast binders are being distributed to school girls, and women and girls do not want to undress alongside men in changing rooms. Yet politicians claim that the real harm is caused when women like Stewart, and grassroots organization Speak Up For Women (SU4W) – so much as open our mouths to make statements of fact.

What’s more, to find evidence of people “persecuting or undermining people’s existence through our “exploration of ideas,”” one need look no further than Logie’s Green Party colleague MP Golriz Ghahraman. In an article in AfterEllen, SU4W spokesperson Ani O’Brien relayed what happened when Montague, in her own time, compiled a list of women who have been murdered by men in New Zealand. Ghahraman found and shared this list and then promptly tweeted,

“NOTE: just realised this excludes trans women due to its author’s stance against one of the most vulnerable groups in our community. I’ll leave it for the exchanges it’s garnered but important to note that that kind of dehumanising prejudice is what leads to violence and death”

As O’Brien writes, “Instead of applauding Montague for calling attention to violence against women, Ghahraman publicly chastized yet another lesbian.” It is not uncommon for lesbians – who are especially motivated to speak out against sex self-identification, since many see it as conversion therapy, and it is leading men increasingly to force their way into lesbian dating pools – to be blamed for indefinite amounts of “violence and death.” This frankly superstitious projection of powerful evil onto lesbians is exactly what homophobia leads to.

Incidentally, this sort of misogyny from women with political status has a history. New Zealand celebrated 125 years of women’s suffrage in 2018, so while Green Party politicians gushed over the anniversary, it was a timely year to read Emmeline Pankhurst’s biography, My Own Story. The book remains relevant for more reasons than one: in 1880s England, Pankhurst was fighting a Liberal government hostile to women’s rights, and every feminist should read her record of prime minister William E. Gladstone’s tactics. “He believed that women’s work and politics lay in service to men’s parties,” wrote Pankhurst. She continues,

“One of the shrewdest acts of Mr Gladstone’s career was his disruption of the suffrage organization in England. He accomplished this by substituting ‘something just as good,’ that something being the Women’s Liberal Associations. Beginning in 1881 in Bristol, these associations spread rapidly through the country and, in 1887, became a National Women’s Liberal Federation. The promise of the Federation was thay by allying themselves with men in party politics, women would soon earn the right to vote. The avidity with which the women swallowed this promise, left off working for themselves, and threw themselves into men’s work was amazing.

…I am told that women in America have recently allied themselves with political parties, believing… that such action would break down opposition to suffrage by showing the men that women possess political ability, and that politics is work for women as well as men. Let them not be deceived.”

Unfortunately for Pankhurst and for us, we have been deceived. Today’s Green parties appear much like the old Women’s Liberal Associations in contemporary form. They coerce women into accepting men’s politics, whilst actively working to depoliticize feminist activism. In this Orwellian age, of course, this all happens under the umbrella of “feminism” itself – so the public is certainly not under the impression that feminism is stigmatized by liberal politicians, particularly female politicians. But it is.

Let us not be deceived by this, though, at least – this behaviour is not women’s initiative. While men high up the ranks know very well to stay silent and let women take the heat for making frankly stupid public statements, for men lower down the ranks, overt misogyny is par for the course. Last year, Young Greens co-convenor Max Tweedie told a lesbian woman not to be a “fucking dickhead,” because she asserted that “you cannot have a penis and be a lesbian.” Then, after a founding member of the Lesbian Rights Alliance put her name down to participate in a rainbow policy review, a note was made in the minutes of a general meeting on November 22 last year, that said:

“Max [Tweedie] and Elizabeth Kerekere are co-convenors of the Rainbow Policy Review Group and they have both committed to not allowing any TERF bullshit to enter the review process.”

Green Party candidate Michael Tavares, proud to “call out dickheads & block TERFs” uses this slur frequently. Last year, he also used his administrative powers to remove notification of a SU4W public event from a group for Greens’ members, replacing it with an article about Green MPs who “throw support behind transgender women.”

Greens general secretary Gwen Shaw appears unmotivated to address these issues. Last year, an e-mail was sent to Shaw asking that she address the fact that Greens candidate Jack McDonald was attempting to discredit feminists critiquing party policy through false accusations. Addressing myself, McDonald said, “The way you have attacked indigenous and other women of colour for years is simply horrible.” When asked for evidence of these “attacks,” McDonald denied obligation to offer any, with Davidson reassuring him that, “No Jack you don’t need to do anything:)”. Shaw has been previously made aware of her party’s efforts to obstruct women’s engagement in democratic process, but appears to remain unconcerned. She shrugged off this incident, simply said that since “this was not a Green party forum… all of those who take part speak in a private capacity, and they are entitled to do so.”

Then there is energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes. Hughes still has his halo. He would like to ban rodeo in New Zealand. If you hadn’t heard of The New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association, his current mortal enemy, well — neither had I. Seems like a pretty decent, inoffensive cause to champion whilst you are running a country that happens to also support legalized prostitution, could decriminalize sex trafficking, and is about to rollback sex-based protections for women. Banning animal cruelty that barely anyone is invested in — well, shine on, guys. What else can we say.

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