He Wahine Maori Ahau
E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora
I particularly acknowledge Heather and Melanie – it’s a privilege to be on the panel with you today, and I am looking forward to hearing about your experiences.
And I very much appreciate being given this opportunity to support wahine Māori working in the public sector.
Today’s topic asked me to reflect on the impact of history on women.
It conjures up a raft of complex issues – not least the impact of colonisation, racism, patriarchy, sexism, socialisation, education and feminism.
We all have the weight of that history on our shoulders.
But we also need to acknowledge the women – and men – who have stood against the tide of history and secured a more solid platform for gender equity.
In Aotearoa we are very proud of the fact that ours was the first nation where women could vote in General Elections.
Women collected signatures on a petition, and it was an all-male Parliament that made women’s suffrage a reality, decades before those in other countries.
In 2022, we can be proud that the roles of Governor-General, Prime Minister, and Chief Justice are all occupied by women – and that 48 percent of our MPs are also women.
The fact that my two fellow panellists have such distinguished roles in the public service – and such appointments are no longer considered remarkable – is an indication of the huge changes I have seen in my lifetime.
I am proud that New Zealand is recognised as a country with a focus on greater equality for women and ethnic minorities (as we can see in the current make-up of Parliament).
However, recent events – here and overseas – provide unsettling reminders that progressive attitudes and advances cannot ever be taken for granted.
Nor can we rest on our laurels, believing that we have achieved enough when it comes to gender equity.
The scourge of domestic violence and sexual harassment still blight our workplaces, homes and communities.
Social progress can be lost more easily than it is gained, and we have to remain vigilant, especially against disinformation and efforts to return us to outdated and harmful social norms.
In the past, women’s contributions may have been written out of the history books, but we can look to our whakapapa and oral histories for proud affirmations of the courage, wisdom and manaakitanga of wahine Māori.
If I reflect on my own experience, I see how fortunate I was to have some formative female role-models in my life.
My mother was something of a social butterfly, in the best possible sense: she was enormously good fun and loved the arts and nature, and she was loved dearly by friends and family.
My grandmother was a huge and enduring influence on my life. During the years I lived with her, she imparted a strong work ethic in me.
She grew up in Waitangi, and she felt an almost personal investment in Te Tiriti. When, as a young woman, I prepared to take part in a protest on Waitangi Day, she sternly informed me it was a sacred covenant that I should respect and work to uphold.
My choice of career – in social development and health – was also inspired by a long history of Māori women who have taken on leadership roles in social movements – such as Whina Cooper in the Land March, the generations of women in the Māori Women’s Welfare League, and Māori nurses – especially the public health nurses who played such a crucial role in rural areas in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In so many instances, then and now, paid and unpaid work is juggled with domestic responsibilities and the rearing of children.
All of us here today share some responsibility in helping to shape the lives of other women, and the generations that follow us.
We know that for some, the glass ceiling has yet to be shattered. Wherever possible, we can choose to be there for each other, helping our female colleagues reach their full potential.
I enjoyed mentoring younger women during my time in academia and the public service. To me, a major responsibility as a leader was to help the next generation of leaders develop their talent and experience. Plus, I knew that I could not achieve what I wanted on my own.
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takatini.
In our private lives, we also depend on our support network of partners, whanau and friends – and I salute the women who do not have that support and have to carry the load alone.
Whether we have that support or not, we share a responsibility to help to shape the lives of our children and mokopuna.
Our experience and values become part of their history, and of the children to come.
So in answer to today’s focus on the impact of history on women – I cannot help but be optimistic when I see the history made in my lifetime. I encourage you to do what you can – in your workplaces and homes – to be change-makers yourselves, to stand tall, as proud wahine toa in the 21st century.