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Women's Words Reception

Issue date: 
Sunday, 28 October 2018
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

Kei te uri o te Whare Ariki, e Rangi, haere mai rā,

me o mana tiketike.

Haere mai ki Aotearoa. Nau mai ki te Whare Kāwana nei.

E rau rangatira mā, tēnā koutou katoa.

 I offer a special welcome to Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

On behalf of all New Zealanders I am delighted to welcome you to Aotearoa New Zealand.

We are looking forward to showing you our beautiful country over the next few days.

You are visiting in an important year for us. We are celebrating a significant milestone in New Zealand’s history – the achievement of women’s suffrage 125 years ago.

New Zealanders are not in the habit of erecting sculptures of our prominent citizens.

But there’s one person whose likeness graces a few pedestals – also our $10 banknote – and even some of our ‘cross-now’ signs at pedestrian crossings.

And that is Kate Sheppard. We honour her as a great pioneer for women’s rights.

Kate Sheppard is our Emmeline Pankhurst.  Under her leadership, New Zealand women were the first in the world to achieve the right to vote – 25 years before the United Kingdom and 27 years before the United States.

Kate Sheppard and her fellow suffragists went door-to-door and town-to-town to get signatures for their monster suffrage petition.   They showed the power of women’s words to raise awareness and bring about change.

Kate was a superb communicator.  She used invincible logic in her appeals for justice, fairness and decency.

She was an effective networker – galvanising other women into action, here and internationally.

And she secured the support of powerful men to get legislation to improve the lives of women, children and the elderly.

She was quick to remind female voters of their new responsibilities. She said:

“Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops.”

She needn’t have worried.  If women’s votes were rain-drops, the polling stations would have been flooded with the deluge just two months later on election day.

Women’s words and voices continue to be powerful here.  The two New Zealand winners of the Booker Prize have both been women – Keri Hulme and Eleanor Catton – and New Zealander Dame Jane Campion is the only female director to have ever won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.  Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Lorde have both established international careers as singers taking their voices to the world.

Thirty-eight percent of our current MPs are women, and the Prime Minister and I are the third women to occupy our respective roles in New Zealand.  Perhaps more significantly, three of our five most recent prime ministers have been women, as have three of the last six Governors General. 

But let’s be clear, there are many areas where our progress in gender equality is not as impressive.   In addition to a stubborn gender pay gap, we have woeful domestic violence statistics.   And we still see harassment, discrimination and unconscious bias in too many workplaces. 

Despite our world leading start, and enthusiastic support of the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, when, among other things, our Equal Pay Legislation was passed, somehow our progress stalled.

The emancipation project is incomplete. We can’t safely say that the job is done.

It has felt like we needed a new Kate Sheppard rainstorm before the seeds for further progress could take root.  I hope the many events held this year to recognise Suffrage 125, have brought a sharper focus and impetus to the cause.

It is gratifying to see a new momentum for change following the founding of the Me Too movement a year ago, and a world-wide resurgence of feminism.

In 2017, feminism was declared to be ‘the word of the year’ by the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, following a 70 percent increase in searches for its definition.

If networking, invincible logic, and appeals to justice, fairness and decency won the day for us in 1893, there is no reason to believe that they can’t be part of the zeitgeist once again.

That’s the challenge for the would-be Kate Sheppards and their male supporters today – and one that I hope they will take up with confidence and resolve.                                 

I want to finish with a whakatauki - a Maori proverb - about the power of the spoken word.

He mana to te kupu: Meinga he kupu atawhai,

he kupu aroha, hei te whakarauora.  

Words have power: let ours speak of kindness, love and be life-giving.

And now, it is my great pleasure and privilege to invite Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Sussex to speak.
















Last updated: 
Monday, 29 October 2018

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