Women in decision-making roles - International Womens Day, 8 March

28 February 2007

Every year on 8 March International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is the role of women in decision-making. The immediate past Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said this was central to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of humankind as a whole.

“The world is starting to grasp that there is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls. And I would venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.”

In politics, women’s participation in parliaments is the highest it has ever been (16.3% across all parliaments) but this is only a marginal increase since 1975 when the participation rate was 10.9%. In business, women’s participation in high-level economic decision-making remains low even in the developed countries, despite educational advances for women in many parts of the world.

To help celebrate 2007 International Women’s Day, InfoLinc talked to two Lincoln University staff about their contribution to university life and views on women in decision-making roles.

Back to top

Dr Stefanie Rixecker – Environment, Society and Design Director
Environment Society and Design Division Director and human rights activist Dr Stefanie Rixecker believes everyone has the power and responsibility to make decisions that advance women and progress humankind.

“In order for women to make good decisions we have to be in safe environments. Where our institutions may be failing women, we need to push for things to change. It isn’t good enough to hear about another woman found dead in a building or another child that died at the hands of caregivers. We are complicit if we don’t step forward.”

Dr Rixecker acknowledges finding time to take up this responsibility isn’t easy but believes each of us can find a unique way to contribute. In her case, it is expressed in her recent commitment to serve on the Governance Team of Amnesty International New Zealand. “In my case I can now take the skills I have developed in this role to enable a human rights organisation that is feeding into a global organisation and movement. You may have knowledge and skills you can contribute. Each action we take is a decision we make.”

Managing nearly 100 staff, 180 postgraduate students and seven undergraduate programmes has certainly given Dr Rixecker a considerable opportunity to hone her ability to manage change which included the merger of two divisions at the time of her appointment to Divisional Director.

The resulting Environment Society and Design Division covers a range of disciplines from humanities and social sciences right through to engineering and the biophysical elements of the environment. The challenge is to enable artists, philosophers, engineers, scientists and economists to focus on their disciplines and connect with one another to achieve Lincoln’s unique interdisciplinary approach.

Another key part of Dr Rixecker’s role is being the connection between the division’s academic staff and senior management. While all working for the same University, each group is driven by specific sets of goals which can lead to competing demands and interpretations. For this reason, shaping the information so the issues are clear to both groups is a key priority. “I aim for a greater coming together of people and to lessen friction. That is not an easy task and it isn’t always achieved, but I try.”

Dr Rixecker first came to Lincoln from the USA in 1993 as a visiting lecturer. She returned a year later to take up a permanent academic role. She says she has had an “incredible” time at the University both professionally and as a person, largely due to the fact that she has never experienced prejudice at Lincoln University. “That is important because not only am I a woman—I am also a lesbian woman. Lincoln University’s safe environment has empowered me to support others, within and outside the University.”

Back to top

Professor Sheelagh Matear – Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Being responsible for academic quality processes at Lincoln University, Professor Sheelagh Matear knows the power of systems and believes they can be used to encourage more women into senior management positions like hers.

As Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Matear is responsible for helping
shape the systems that create a good university experience for students and staff. For students this means offering high quality relevant programmes that set them up for their careers and lives and making sure they progress well throughout the qualification they have chosen.

“I like to take systems, see how things fit together and see if you can get smoother ways through some things. We must have a set of systems in place that gives us complete confidence that when we send a student out of here with a piece of paper from Lincoln, that we are going to stand behind them.”

Professor Matear completed her PhD in nautical studies at Plymouth University in the UK. She then moved to the University of Arizona where she worked in the office of economic development—the interface between the university and the state’s information technology industry.

The move to New Zealand came in 2001 when Professor Matear took a role in the Marketing Department at the University of Otago’s Business School. At Otago she was involved across the university in a variety of roles and was delighted when in December 2004 she was appointed Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at Lincoln.

“It was a great opportunity and I was particularly attracted to Lincoln because it is a university that does things slightly differently. We focus on being relevant, connected and interdisciplinary which is good because the real world doesn’t simplify into single issues.”

Professor Matear is pleased Lincoln has a number of women in important decision making roles including two females on the senior management team. However she would like to see more, particularly younger women, involved because they bring a different perspective.

“There needs to be an expectation and acceptance in organisations that women can move into these types of roles, that they can advance to them and they are worth doing. But just as much women need to be prepared to put their hands up and give it a go. You don’t have to be super woman to actually do it—I’m not!”

Back to top

What does International Women's Day mean to staff and students?
Ms Liu Linda/Fengyi Liu,  PR China

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? As I’ve been here for six years now, so this day does not affect me at all. Back to six years ago, before I came here, I was still a student or a girl. I was not treated as a woman. But I always treat it as a special day for all the females in my family.

How will you celebrate or acknowledge the day? Normally I would give my family in China a call and this is the best way to celebrate it.

In your country, how do you celebrate International Women’s Day? We would normally have the day off either from school or work. And women normally would receive a gift from the male member in their family and that is the day they are away from cooking.


Ms Jessie Zhao PR China

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? I feel that women are treated with fair and respect at workplaces and in families. It makes me to appreciate the rapid social development in terms of women’s social status over the past decades.

How will you celebrate or acknowledge the day? I might go out for dinner with my girlfriends to indulge ourselves.

In your country, how do you celebrate International Women’s Day? On every International Women’s Day and thereabouts, there will a number of TV programmes reflecting life of women in China or focusing on women who have made outstanding contribution in various areas. Some organisations give their female staff half day off on that day while some might arrange gift packs. You feel proud of being a woman and feel yourself well valued.


Ms Penny Mok/Thai Yoong Mok, Malaysia

We do celebrate International Women’s Day in Malaysia. It was initiated by a NGO called Women’s Aid Organisation. You could obtain more information about them in this website http://www.wao.org.my/index.htm To me, the designated day is a recognition of women’s rights and struggles against violence and injustice around the world. It is important for such recognition to be widespread to end the socio-economic injustice which has been cast upon women for all these while. Not surprisingly, poverty incidence amongst women is the highest compared to their male counterpart. Every year in Malaysia, there is a theme to celebrate IWD. For instance, last year was “Stop Violence against Women” whereby several NGOs collaborated with the local TV programme to organise an awareness campaign and signature campaign to end rape and domestic violence.


Ms Fazrina Shizatul Fazrina Binte Othman, Malaysia

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? It means women contributions are appreciated in many ways and where women are treated equally as men without discrimination.

How will you celebrate or acknowledge the day? Great women are awarded and honoured for their excellent achievements.

In your country, how do you celebrate International Women’s Day? Campaigns of women appreciation and awareness of women contributions/participation as well as dinner gala/party are held. Awards are also given away.


Melanie O’Toole, Irish/Australian, Director International, Lincoln University Board member, United Nations Development Fund for Women

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? It is an annual day of acknowledgement of all the past and present contributions made by women worldwide. It is also a day of reflection and action to address the injustices experienced by many women and children who in many parts of the world, still don’t have access to a decent education, a decent health system, accessible and affordable childcare and flexible and meaningful employment.

How will you celebrate or acknowledge the day? I will send acknowledgment messages to all the important women in my life, and remind them how great they are. I also plan to attend the United Nations Development Fund for Women’s annual fundraising breakfast here in Christchurch, an event that is celebrated in other major cities around the world.

In your country, how do you celebrate International Women’s Day? In Ireland, women who have made extraordinary contributions are publicly acknowledged and charity campaigns occur to raise funds and awareness of injustices and rights of women. These kinds of activities are also replicated in parts of Australia. Also it is common for politicians to announce their plans on women/family friendly policies.



Page last updated on: 28/09/2009