Marilyn Waring – New Zealand

Linked with DEV NET – AOTEAROA New Zealand.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Upcoming LecturesMarilyn Waring: ‘Money, Gender and Equity’, Wednesday, April 25, 2007, 07:30 PM – Marilyn Waring will change your perceptions of justice, economics and the worth of your own work forever. David Suzuki has said that she penetrates to the heart of the global, ecological and social crisis that afflicts the world … Lecture is held at 7:30pm in the First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave., Portland. Doors open at 6:30pm. (full text).

Marilyn challenges the assumption that international business systems are adequately meeting the needs of both local and global communities. Using plain language laced with ironic humour, she makes it clear that classic economics work to benefit one particular group, while the rest of us – the vast majority – pay the price … Marilyn was one of 40 “visionaries” chosen by the BBC World Service from throughout the English-speaking world for their series of hour-long millennium interviews, and one of the 1000 Women nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She has worked as a multi lateral development consultant in Asia, Africa and the South Pacific, and conducted the Ministerial Review of NZAID in 2005. (full text).

Marilyn Waring - New Zealand  two.jpg

Marilyn Waring – New Zealand

She works for the Massey University.

She says: “One of the joys of getting older is being able to see the victories: nuclear-free New Zealand, the collapse of the Berlin wall, Mandela, hopefully soon a Palestinian nation state”.

She says also: “What keeps me going and gives me strength? The amazing stories every day of people defying the odds. I can get a buzz out of thousands of people in the Ukraine protesting on the streets in the middle of winter, people picketing Mac Donalds, when Wangaari wins the Nobel Prize or when one US Congress woman refuses to go to war against Iraq. At the same time I can go to staggering pieces of theatre like David Hare’s Via Dolorosa; I have never forgotten Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. You just feed off all of that, just the extraordinary creative network of defiance”.

And she says: “The very best definition of freedom I ever heard was Nina Simone’s: I think it is exactly the same for peace. They asked her what freedom meant and she said, NO FEAR. And that is what peace means. No one has any fear. I have never found a better way of thinking about it than that. And it also seems to me to embrace all the possibilities. I think the next generation is extraordinarily diasporic, and fast too, from one moment to the next. But I think it is probably, unfortunately, having to learn the same lessons again. I know things change but I do not fancy women’s chances in the next generation or two. Not that there is not a healthy feminist analysis around the place but there is a lot of co-option and sell out. The moment the feminist agenda became a gender agenda loads of the politics got lost.”(See all on this page of 1000 peacewomen).

Marilyn Waring (born 1952) is a New Zealand feminist, an activist for “female human rights”, an author and an academic. She holds a Ph.D. in political economy. She became the youngest member in the New Zealand Parliament in 1975, at the age of 22; and remained in the House of Representatives until 1984. At the time of her election, she was only the fifteenth woman elected as a Member of Parliament in New Zealand. As of 2006, Waring works as a Professor of Public Policy at the Institute of Public Policy at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand. She has held Fellowships at Harvard and Rutgers Universities. She is a member of the Board of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.Waring has worked as a consultant for organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), the Yukon Territorial Government, the Ford Foundation, and the Ontario Provincial Government. (See also: Early life, Political career (1975-1984), Academic life, Farming, etc. … full text).

Read: Who’s counting?

Read: Will the World Economy Produce Only World Culture?

Read: Marilyn Waring speaks at Red and White Club.

… However, Waring’s most dramatic moment in Parliament came in 1984, when she voted against her own government in favor of a nuclear-free New Zealand. Her decision to “cross the floor” and vote in favor of the nuclear ban prompted Prime Minister Robert Muldoon to call for a snap election. Muldoon’s government lost the election, and the new government passed the nuclear-free resolution, making New Zealand the first nation in the world to refuse entry to U.S. nuclear ships … (full text).
Marilyn Waring is also a farmer and she says herself that it is this calling that has had the most profound influence on the way she understands the economy. Unfortunately, Waring’s ideas have never seriously influenced the way our Canadian economic system works. However, Marilyn Waring has been a great inspiration to many people, especially women, who feel that the current economic system excludes much of life.

Waring says that when economy includes only activities which involve monetary transactions, much of women’s productive and reproductive work is excluded. Bearing children, mothering, tending a garden, feeding one’s family, milking a family cow, raising sheep for wool you use yourself, all of these are excluded as economic activities and do not find their way into any country’s System of National Accounts. In other words, through a traditional understanding of the economy, much of the work of half of the population becomes invisible. (See Julie’s story.)

According to Waring, mainstream economics has also not found a way of counting the resources on which valued production is based, namely the earth. For example, activities which involve monetary transactions count as production even when they involve the degradation of the earth’s resources, such as strip-mining. A sunset has no value, nor a mountain, and trees only count when they have been chopped down and sold. At the same time, Waring criticizes traditional economics for not finding a way to value community well-being. By current thinking, war and disaster are ‘good for the economy’ because they create jobs such as arms production and clean-up. (full text, scroll down).

Her books on amazon.

Questions and answers on Marilyn Waring’s work:

- In Counting for Nothing you say that our international accounting systems do not take into account many things, especially the work of women and the cost of environmental damage. Can you elaborate on this?

There is a very simple rule in accounting and that is if something is valued only if there is an exchange in the market, then the reproductive and productive work of the environment does not figure as visible in the equation. Unpaid community work, unpaid caring work for a dependent person, unpaid household work, is in fact the social capital that enables the whole of the economy to function. But if you are not visible as a producer in the nation?s economy, then you are not visible in the distribution of benefits either. So people who do those things are either called economically inactive or they are called a problem of welfare because we have to give them a benefit in order for them to do these things. It would be fine if it was a system that was only used in the private sector and only by some elements of government in terms of things like working out investment options, strategic plans around productivity, trying to assess labour needs etc. But the problem is that this uni-dimensional set is used as the basic data on which all policy is made. And at that point, as it actually measures things that are hugely destructive as good for the economy, then it is a pathological system.
I am definitely not on the fringe anymore, I am definitely mainstream, people get taught about what I wrote. People who once criticized what I wrote now write newspaper columns that say they knew it all along and that they invented the critique. I mean the caveats are constantly entered. However while there has been work around genuine progress indicators and there is some very promising work around time-use surveys, and while there are far more different data collected about a lot of things now, there still have to be major doubts at the interpretative capacity of people driving the main desks in the world?s finance departments. You have got to work very hard with social science research skills because economics to a certain extent deals with figures but people treat it as objective science. Economics is a social science just like any other social science: it is no more rigorous than psychology, for example. Unfortunately that is not something that gets through. It is very funny the way they play it: you frequently find economics being taught in the business departments of universities but it is a social science. It still tries to wear shoes that are far too big for it.

- How did you start working on the issues that concern you?

Sometimes I think that one of the biggest changes you can make being an academic is to give people permission to think, permission to step outside the square, permission to strategize, permission to challenge, permission to question. It is a wonderful opportunity to support people in doing that. I think in New Zealand, because for most of us who live here, they will not be coming to get us in the morning, there is no excuse not to practice that questioning, challenging, creative, exploratory frame of politics all the time. I continue to have faith that when genuinely good people are given information, then genuinely good people change their minds. That has always been my experience. People do have a desire to be treated as if they are intelligent and to be given information upon which they can come to their own conclusions or they can ask for more.
My political experience is that actually people do not want answers, they want to be treated as if they can come up with their own, thank you very much, if you will only be transparent about what is going on. I like to hope that the work I have been doing on the National Income accounts and challenging a truly perverse malevolent value system has been of truly constructive change. I know Indigenous peoples, from the First Nations people to Tangata Whenua in New Zealand have been able to use ny system because of its challenge to the capitalist value system. I know it has been of tremendous use for women in advocating in many parts of the world for legislative change. I know environmental activists have been able to use it. It is wonderful to think that you have been part of creating a tool that is of use in a myriad of situations that you never could have imagined for it. It is not like it was a prescription that was only useful for a middle class White western educated person.

- What got you involved in these issues?

I think that my motivation in terms of the feminist movement was completely experiential. The same for the anti-nuclear movement and the anti-apartheid movement. I embraced the politics of those movements. If you belong to a group of people who are subject to blatant discrimination or acts of violence then I think it is possible to also embrace the politics of other movements not directly happening to you. As long as you remember to stay out of the sun in those movements as you are a supporter not a leader. So the women?s movement was just a reflection of how life was.
Then, in terms of the anti-nuclear movement, it was about being in Parliament and knowing exactly how they operated, precisely which behaviors you could provoke in the power brokers and how to do that and still get out of it looking like the abused party. In relation to the systems of national accounts and the universal discrimination against women?s productive and reproductive and service work that is implicit in the rules of those accounts, because of the position I had in Parliament and on the Public Expenditure Committee and because women shared their stories with me in their tens of thousands I knew I was not wrong about the discrimination. I learned that from the vast range of teachers that I had who were firstly the women of New Zealand and then of the world. I could act as the vehicle and the bridge to bring the detail of their lives into stark relief against this discriminatory international system.
I remember being one of only 12 people at the first anniversary of the Sharpesville day massacre, walking through the street with white crosses. I was a bit young for the anti-Vietnam protests but I was part of the wave of the women?s movement that was protesting violence across the whole spectrum, whether it was simply trying to lay wreaths on Anzac Day for women and children as citizen victims of war or whether it was Take Back The Night marches. But it is also very odd how little incidents can change your life. I remember the War Game movie coming to New Zealand and getting my father to leave the Frankton Sail yards early one afternoon to pick me up from school so I could go. It is things like that Peter Watkins documentary and a strange little book called Common Sense in Nuclear Warfare written by Bertrand Russell that my parents bought at the door one day when somebody from the Communist Party NZ was walking around our little community. So a whole range of incidents like that kind of begin programming you to do what you have to do.

- Do you work at different levels?

I work at all levels: local, national, international and community. I am selective about that. In a way teaching is always a community activity. So in my professional life I can teach people in the North Shore area where I live and I can give key note speeches at major international conferences anywhere in the world across a range of subjects: environment to rural women to development assistance and the millennium development goals to international human rights and international civil society activism. At the moment I am doing a ministerial review of Nzaid, the agency that delivers New Zealand development assistance, so that is working for the central government. And in two months I will be giving a keynote speech at the first rural women?s conference held in the United Kingdom. So from year to year I work at all levels.

- Are there different strategies for different levels?

I guess all the time you try and determine quietly through a number of questions, the consciousness, the capability, the capacity and the resources of the group you are talking to. They are going to vary every time. Quite often you might find that there is a comprehensive resource base and no political will, so obviously that is completely different from a group with the political will but no resources. And you strategize around those. I have led a number of United Nations missions in really different places where it was patently obvious that the central government has no commitment to, let us say, mainstreaming women in the national plan or in agriculture. So while I fulfillthe terms of reference for the project, I get more satisfaction and emotional engagement from spending more of my time gathering as many women nationals around me as I can to teach, share, leak everything I am doing and know about to them, so I kind of carry them with me all the way. When I leave at least there is a fund of knowledge, of skills, of access built up and left behind for them to make use of.
I can give you another example. In one country that will remain nameless, I arrived to lead a Undp mission and I thought it really strange that the Secretary of National Planning and the Minister for National Planning had embraced this particular project because there was not a great amount of money involved. You are not ever going to get the explanations directly from those situations.
So I tackled the wives and you find out that one has a daughter who has arrived home after months in a violent marriage situation and all of the sudden the father has a different response. And you find that another gentleman has only three daughters who have all been sent overseas for their education and they are all refusing to come home because of the dreadful way in which women are treated in this particular country. So you keep those things in mind when you write the report and you highlight unequal opportunity in the paid workforce for graduate women, you highlight domestic violence against women and so on. You know they will read the whole report when you get their attention that way. So there are things like that which are part of the whole female intuition. If you can work out the real basis of why anything is happening and play to that, it can be really helpful.

- Strengths and weaknesses of your approach?

Now the weakness of my approach is that I am a different age group from the majority of women. I suppose because I was thrust into a leadership role at a very early age I know how out-of-date women the age I am now, were for me and for my generation then. How co-opted they were and how un-creative and careful they appeared to be. I guess that is how I would appear now to younger women. For me now it is much more about sitting there as a repository of tactics that we have tried before, what worked and what did not, and being available as that kind of a resource as opposed to being expected to lead anything.

- What have been the greatest obstacles for you?

Overwhelmingly I would say that the greatest obstacle would be relationships with people who held power. A number of people who hold power, and you can say this of your personal relationships as well as national and international relationships, are jealous, are competitive, substitute power for love and are manipulative and cruel. You have to build up a certain resilience to survive in those situations when probably the healthiest thing would be to not be in the situation in the first place.

- What different roles do you fulfil?

I am a teacher, an advocate, educator, mentor, a good friend and a frustrated musician.

- What has helped you achieve your goals?

Feeling supported by a mass of people, most of whose names I do not even know.

- How have you coped with trauma or stress caused by your work?

I have had good friends, taken medication, tried to always be engaged by creativity, so movies, good books, collecting good art. I go to exhibitions and always try to look for the celebratory, healing things to balance out the ugly.

- Do you have a story of a personal struggle that may help others?

In 1976 being ?outed? as a lesbian was certainly a struggle. I was the first ?outed? person in the New Zealand Parliament. Tactically when that happened I decided never to make any comment on it, because media could not run a story if I did not open my mouth on the subject. But they still went on about it for six weeks. I can remember Margaret Thatcher came to NZ at the time. I was told by one of my friends in the Prime Minister?s department that one of the more interesting conversations Thatcher had with Muldoon was how the Government handled this in case she had something like it come up in the UK. That story just demonstrates the magnitude of it at the time though nobody cares much about it these days. Just to tough it out was really hard. I was in my early 20s and I had not come out to my parents, so everybody who knew me felt affected, judged.
The information was always used to try and undermine my credibility, as if sexuality somehow impairs your integrity or your capacity to learn. So inside my own party caucus, if I were raising an issue and I was the only woman in the room, the response would be ?normal women do not think like that?. Or speakers from the opposition party would come to my home town and stage a political meeting and the headline would say ?Government?s policy on women led by barren lesbian?. Or on the final night of the showdown with the Prime Minister over causing the government to have a snap election, his opening words to me were ?What do you think you are up to, you perverted little liar?? It stays with you. A lot of people reach for that all the time and you have to establish a way to keep your mind on the argument as opposed to the kind of lashing that you are getting.

- Where do you go for emotional and spiritual support?

I am lucky still to have my parents and my brother, I have some amazing good friends, I guess that is where I go.

- How do you share your knowledge and lessons learnt with the next generation?

I teach, write and use the medium of film.

- What methods do you use to convey your message?

I tell real stories, things that were extraordinarily memorable for me, things I have seen, and that possibly a lot of women only read about. For example, if I am talking about female sexual slavery then I can actually talk about going into clubs at night to see girls as young as 12 being paraded on bars up above the throng wearing only numbers for sale to the men gathered all around. We can tell stories about fires in brothels and seeing the charred skeletal remains of girls chained to beds, in the ruins.

- How have you tried to adapt cultural beliefs so that they are more supportive of social justice?

I can answer that in terms of three possible takes on culture. One is that if we are looking generically in New Zealand then I belong to the dominant culture. You then ask: is there a women?s culture as distinct from a patriarchal culture? And so in the very beginning you attempt to introduce different language, attempt to hear the silences, attempt to ask the questions that otherwise do not occur to the patriarchy and to fill that void and to force them to ask such questions. Then there is the culture of being a Pakeha (White) and so mostly you have to work within the Pakeha culture, to make them move aside and keep quiet and listen to and acknowledge the culture of the Tangata Whenua of Maoridom in New Zealand. Then there is being part of a gay culture where usually women in the gay movement are less resourced so not typically going to occupy as much space as gay men. It is interesting, I notice with some of my straight women friends that they immediately get themselves together and have a very PC attitude towards Maori culture but do not actually appreciate that being gay is a culture as well. So, you always carry a consciousness with you everywhere and language is often the most basic instrument available to engage in changing attitudes to the issue.

- What are your plans for the future?

I think in my lifetime we have to ensure that there is no turning back from the nuclear-free position in New Zealand because there are still attempts to undermine that. There is a great deal of propaganda in respect to the United States and the possibility of a free trade agreement. We have got to make sure that nobody actually buys that bullshit frankly. Sometimes it is just so tiring thinking and working on changing the basis for policy making to something that is far more inclusive than the system of national accounts, and growth in development and international comparability built on such a pathological paradigm.
But also I guess by the time you get to your early fifties you can look back and see that there have been evolutionary changes and to celebrate those because otherwise the struggle would be pointless. Some changes are significant and some are incremental around the edges but they all make a difference. I think the other thing that is quite important around the women?s movement is not to get too strategically planned in a uni-dimensional kind of a way because so much of being a feminist is opportunistic, being ready. I would not like to narrow the possibilities by saying this is the prize and this is where I am going.

- What support do you most need?

To have a partner who is not competitive, jealous or resentful.

(Read all on 1000peacewomen 2005).


Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics;

The sustainable Revolution;

Counting for Something. Same on;

New Zealand general election, 1984;


Feminist Economics;

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