Page 3: Labour Party politics
Davies, Sonja Margaret Loveday
Nurse, labour activist, women’s rights activist, politician, peace campaigner
This biography, written by Anne Else, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
The struggle for women’s equality
Sonja Davies’s own experience of the conflicts and contradictions women faced formed the basis of her deep understanding and commitment to change. She found it difficult to get male politicians who lacked any such experience to understand the importance of childcare, or of many other issues vital to women’s equality, especially their status in the Labour Party itself. Her high profile angered some older women in the party: as the second woman elected to Labour’s national executive in 1965 she heard one say she had won only because she had slept with all of the MPs.
Passed over in the 1966 selection for Rotorua or Taupō, Davies was relegated to the unwinnable seat of Hastings, where she dealt with warring factions. On top of that, she had to deal with her mother’s serious illness and charges of neglecting her family – and 10 days' worth of laundry handed over by party leader Norman Kirk.
Davies and Kirk had much in common politically, and he took her into his confidence. In 1969, however, he responded angrily to her attempt to warn him of gossip that he had been having affairs with various women. His reaction ended any prospect of her becoming an MP under his leadership.
Davies included the concept of a wage for women at home caring for children in the 1971 Labour Party Women’s Report. This sparked the first of many accusations that she was trying to destroy family life. The party’s continued sidelining of women’s issues and participation led to an angry picket at the 1974 party conference.
Labour Women’s Council
In 1975, the first United Nations International Women’s Year, the women’s advisory committee Davies had pushed for finally got funding and became the Labour Women’s Council. The first women’s co-ordinator, lobbied for by Davies since 1967, was finally appointed in 1979. The party, the country and the world were beginning to catch up with her.