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2018 Zonta/UN Women NZ breakfast at Parliament

Issue date: 
Thursday, 8 March 2018
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

Tēnā tatau wahine mā, nau māi, haere mai.

E te Pirimia o mua, Helen, tena koe.

Ina te kaupapa nui hei hapai mā tatau katoa.


Welcome to all.

Welcome to our former Prime Minister, Helen

We are here to discuss and celebrate


Thank you for inviting me to speak again at the Zonta Wellington and UN Women New Zealand’s breakfast – in this 125th year since women won their fight for the right to vote in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Yesterday at Government House we launched the celebrations of that major milestone in the history of women’s rights.

Later in the year, we will celebrate the 19th of September – when the enabling legislation was signed into law – and the 28th of November, when women voted for the first time in 1893.

It’s a particular privilege to share the podium today with Helen Clark, our first elected female Prime Minister, who has been such a powerful and inspirational role model for women all over the world.

Under Helen’s leadership, the UN Development Programme helped improve the status and wellbeing of millions of women in developing countries.

Helen, we thank you for your steadfast commitment to feminist leadership – and for lifting the sights of so many other women.

As they say, a week is a long time in politics, and the last year has certainly been a long year in the history of women’s rights.

Since the last breakfast here in 2017, we have witnessed an unexpected, but very welcome shift in the zeitgeist, and a gathering mood for change.

Gloria Steinem has likened the #metoo movement to a tidal wave, noting that what is profoundly different from past campaigns is the sheer number of people participating - it is now a majority movement.

Kristine Bartlett, who secured another milestone in the battle for pay equity, was named New Zealander of the Year; and workplace harassment is firmly in the spotlight.

We have a female Prime Minister, more women in Parliament, and a commitment to make it a family-friendly environment for the MPs who are mothers of young children.

So there is real cause for optimism.

However, as Sandra Coney noted here 12 months ago, history shows what can happen when a movement loses momentum. Entrenched behaviours become harder to shift.

The pioneers who worked in anti-racism, feminism, or gay rights endured inertia, vilification and backlash, but their causes prevailed, because enough people came to see that they were just.

Many of us here have personally witnessed this process unfold in our lifetimes. We know that it is possible to shift mainstream thinking and establish new social mores – but it takes concerted and consistent effort.  We have also seen the movement towards gender equity stall – sometimes through inertia and sometimes through lack of active support from women themselves.

The challenge is to ensure that this time, the momentum is not lost, that widespread and lasting societal change is secured for the next generation of women in New Zealand.

We have a personal responsibility to contribute – as indicated in one of the themes of this year’s Suffrage celebrations: Whakatu Wahine – stand tall.

Standing tall means doing what we can to change the messages playing in the heads of women and men about gender roles.

It means confronting stereotypes, calling people out on casual sexism, and speaking truth to power. It takes courage to do this, but it has to be done.

We have to keep going because the stakes are high – the rights, the health and the wellbeing of future generations of women.

Just as importantly, when women are enabled, they and their families flourish, to the betterment of our wider society.

Gender equity must not be restricted to the privileged few.

We have to make sure that all women, regardless of their ethnicity, religious affiliations, socio-economic background, or sexual identity have the chances that they deserve – to educate themselves, to be free of sexual abuse, to have control of their own bodies, to have access to all avenues of education and employment.

Only then can we truly say that we are honouring the courageous women who fought for the vote, who tested and broke down the barriers of entry into the professions, who became the first female doctors, pilots, firefighters, soldiers and engineers, who fought for childcare and equal rights within marriage, who campaigned to reduce violence and abuse.

Everyone here today has influence. Let’s use that influence and see where it can take us before the next International Women’s Day breakfast. Let’s see what we can personally achieve in our families, in our schools and communities, and in our workplaces to change things for the better for women.

Let’s be vigilant about identifying entrenched and discriminatory power structures.  Let’s make sure the ladders are in place for other women to come up and join us.

Let’s actively use our influence for good.






Last updated: 
Thursday, 8 March 2018

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