March 8, 2019

Prominent Kiwi wāhine explain what International Women’s Day means to the

Published on stuff

Friday marks International Women’s Day (IWD), with this year’s globally-recognised event calling for a gender-balanced world and accelerating gender parity.

The day has been recognised worldwide for more than a century, but has gained momentum following the emergence of the #MeToo movement.

Stuff asked several prominent Kiwi women what this day means to them – in their own words.

JACINDA ARDERN – Prime Minister

We always hold with some pride that we were the first country in the world to grant women the vote.

It was long fought for, but I think that means that we probably have that greater weight of expectation that we keep making progress.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

I’m really proud that we’ve done things like increase paid parental leave, that we’re improving our pay equity legislation, that we’ve increased funding and support around domestic violence in frontline services – but actually, the fact that we still have a pay gap, the fact that we still have violence against women, shows that there is a lot more work to do.

HELEN CLARK – Former Prime Minister

On IWD, I celebrate progress to date on gender equality, but also reflect on how much more remains to be done.

On many dimensions, New Zealand is doing well, but the level of domestic and family violence remains a significant concern.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

At the global level, progress is glacial on closing the gaps in political participation and the workforce, with the World Economic Forum estimating it will take 100 years to achieve gender parity overall.

Even in this 21st century, young girls in quite a number of countries are forced into early marriage and childbearing; a significant number are also tortured through female genital mutilation.

None of us should rest until the serious inequities and injustice many women face around the world are overcome.

STEPH DYHRBERG – Employment lawyer and Wellingtonian of the Year

IWD reminds me I am part of a global sisterhood of women, all facing a range of system issues because of their gender.

It reminds me to be grateful for all the advantages I have as an educated pākehā woman in Aotearoa, and the responsibility I have to use my influence to help others.

Employment lawyer and 2018 Wellingtonian of the Year Steph Dyhrberg.
Employment lawyer and 2018 Wellingtonian of the Year Steph Dyhrberg.

I think about the fantastic women role models in my life and the world today – the feminists who have worked tirelessly for equality of opportunity and rights.

I am reflecting on the many struggles still going on and the part I can play in them – abortion reform; sexual violence prevention; pay equity; levelling the playing field in workplaces and education.

I think of my grandmothers, mums and aunts, what they have given me and what I want for my daughters. I am thinking about how to engage men in a positive way to get them to join in the mahi.

JULIE-ANNE GENTER – Minister for Women

This is my second IWD as Minister for Women.

This year, my partner and I have welcomed the birth of our first child. As a fulltime working mum, I rely on unpaid work by my partner to enable me to do my job. This work has typically been sidelined as ‘women’s work’, but it is time for social attitudes to change.

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter and son Joaquin.
Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter and son Joaquin.

The caring work that has traditionally been done by women needs to be recognised as productive and valuable work and shared between all genders.

I look forward to my child growing up in a world where we have moved past gender stereotypes and where the value of unpaid work is recognised as essential to our society and economy.

PROFESSOR JULIET GERRARD – Prime Minister’s chief science advisor

IWD provides a moment to pause and reflect on how far women have come on the path to equality worldwide and where there is still work to do.

It is also a time to think about what we have learned on the journey and use this knowledge to support other under-represented groups.

The Prime Minister's chief science advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard.
The Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard.

In science, there is still a lot to do to level the playing field in terms of gender, but we have made great strides in recent years.

Let’s use this understanding to make science a more inclusive space for all people, especially Māori and Pacific peoples.


I get together with women I wouldn’t normally see. We don’t work together, so I don’t usually run into them.

It is quite good to take a break, to have a yarn over breakfast, or lunch with other women.

Filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston.
Filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston.

In my lifetime, that community of women has, step after step achieved a hell of a lot.

They have done it sometimes by stealth, sometimes by storming the battlements, sometimes by knowing when to retreat and hold fast, and live to fight another day.

I’m not just talking about political women, I’m talking about all women.

I’m really looking forward to the next 20 years – there’s plenty of work to be done.

LOUISE NICHOLAS – Victims advisor

IWD for me is about acknowledging all the amazing work that women right across the spectrum do, for their countries.

It’s not just our business women, but it’s our mothers, it’s our aunts, it’s our grandmothers.

Victims advocate Louise Nicholas.
Victims advocate Louise Nicholas.

So for me, the role of all women, especially here in Aotearoa, is one of great significance to the country.

It’ll be a day to reflect on all the amazing work so many women do for so many people and to say thank you for that.

DAME PATSY REDDY – Governor-General of New Zealand

Every year, IWD offers us the opportunity to celebrate the political, social, cultural and economic achievements of women.

My own recent experience of the day has been one of inspiration. At the events I’ve attended around the country, I’ve been privileged to hear from many New Zealand women about their role in our society – our shared past and present and what we want and need to achieve in the future.

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.
Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.

The strength, intelligence and compassion of the women I meet always encourages me to think about what I can do to champion the value of female empowerment.

The social and economic benefits that accrue to everyone when women are encouraged to reach their potential are reason enough to keep working for equality. We’re not there yet but I firmly believe that one day we will be.

I hope that every New Zealander finds their own piece of inspiration on this day and uses it to make change for the better.

DR SIOUXSIE WILES – Microbiologist

International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate how far we have come in terms of gender equity. But it’s also a time to reflect how far we still have to go.

In my own area of science, there is no lack of girls and young women excited and inspired to pursue careers.

Dr Souxsie Wiles, Auckland based microbiologist.
Dr Souxsie Wiles, Auckland based microbiologist.

What is unacceptable is that many of them will end up in a hostile environment where they have to work harder than the men around them to succeed.

They’ll even find themselves labelled ‘difficult’ and ‘troublesome’ for pointing out systemic biases in the system. It’s even worse for those women who aren’t white.

For me, IWD is an opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to changing the status quo and doing all I can to make the world a more equitable place.

NAOMI SHAW – former White Sox captain and New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame member

When I think about IWD, it is about recognising the significant achievement of women across the spectrum who have been able to right the wrongs in terms of gender balance.

It is also about recognising where there is a gender imbalance and suggesting solutions. I think about how brave the women in hockey and soccer were, where there had been bullying and how brave they were to speak out against it.

Softball great Naomi Shaw.
Softball great Naomi Shaw.

They were prepared to speak up when they saw something that was just not right.

That has given us the strength to continue to correct the things we know in our own sport that need to change. It gives us the strength to continue our own battles in our areas.

It also makes me think about my whānau. Being a Māori mother and grandmother, and the important role we have as significant nurturers in the community.

IZZY FORD – Porirua Deputy Mayor, Wellington Rugby Board member and former Black Fern

The fact that we have IWD shows we still have a heck of a long way to go, in terms of equality. The moment we don’t need a day like this, we know we’ve won.

New Zealand is passionate about sports. Female participation is growing but women aren’t represented in management or on boards.

Former Black Fern and Porirua Deputy Mayor Izzy Ford.
Former Black Fern and Porirua Deputy Mayor Izzy Ford.

About 60 per cent of Wellington’s women-sport-players are Pasifika but they aren’t seen in management. Men are still dominating in leadership and governance roles.

There is still a whole lot of work to be done rather than the tick-box, tokenistic approach to women representatives.

IWD is great but it will be better when we don’t need it.

JILL DAY – Wellington Deputy Mayor

Today, for me, is a day to reflect on those who helped us achieve our goals, to celebrate who we are as women and recognise how far we have come.

No woman is an island – we all have those around us who support, challenge and advise us. Let us all take time today to let those people know that we are grateful.

Wellington Deputy Mayor Jill Day.
Wellington Deputy Mayor Jill Day.

I grew up with two sisters and ‘girls can do anything’ stickers all over my bedroom. We believed that we could do whatever we wanted, but we were lucky.

I know that in previous generations things were different, so I am thankful for the support that was given to me, especially by my mother and father.

I wish all women and girls a great IWD and encourage you to explore all opportunities open to you. Being Deputy Mayor was not something I imagined would be in my future, but I am grateful to be in this position and that I took the chance on a different path.

DR ANG JURY – Women’s Refuge chief executive

IWD is, for me, a day of celebration and hope, but tinged with more than a degree of sadness.

When I reflect on the position of New Zealand women in 2019 I’m filled with pride and admiration for the amazing women of the past (and the present) who’ve committed their lives to create the environment of opportunity many women in this country enjoy today.

Dr Ang Jury, of Women's Refuge.
Dr Ang Jury, of Women’s Refuge.

Sadness sits alongside this though as I think about a great many women who aren’t able to share in these life potentials.

We’ve come a long way, a very long way, here in Aotearoa, but have an incredibly long way to go. Many of us now enjoy lives our great grandmothers would have thought inconceivable and my hope is that this same sentiment will hold true in another 100 years.

Kia kaha wahine ma!

JACKIE CLARK – The Aunties charity founder

I’m very sceptical about IWD. I think if there is a purpose to it, it needs to be to raise the voices of women who aren’t usually heard, like transgender women.

It can’t just be for white, cisgender, straight, middle-class women, it must be for all women. It can’t just be for show.

Jackie Clark from The Aunties.
Jackie Clark from The Aunties.

I just don’t know that IWD is terribly useful. What I see happening is that everything is so gendered.

Safe spaces need to be genuinely created for all women to achieve true equality.

FRAN SCHOLEY – Netball Central chief executive, former Wellington Saints manager and National Basketball League administrator

IWD is a day that I consciously stop and recognise women’s achievements, no matter how big or small they may be.

Gender equality has been pioneered in New Zealand. We instantly think of Kate Sheppard who enabled us to to vote, Dame Whina Cooper who aided Māori land rights and living conditions.

Netball Central chief executive Fran Scholey.
Netball Central chief executive Fran Scholey.

But I also think of and celebrate the women that have quietly gone about their lives, in smaller communities that have paved the way for others. Grandmothers, mothers, aunties and sisters who have been influential without even realising it.

A collective effort, to make a positive difference for women in the balance for better.

THERESA GATTUNG – Philanthropist, and former chief executive of Telecom

I grew up in a family where my sisters and I were told that women can be anything they want to be when provided with equal opportunities. To this day I firmly believe that and for most of my adult life have supported groups dedicated to empowering women.

I hope to be a catalyst for women being inspired to manifest amazing outcomes for themselves and to create meaningful change in the world in the company of other women.

Theresa Gattung former chief executive of Telecom, businesswoman and philanthropist.
Theresa Gattung former chief executive of Telecom, businesswoman and philanthropist.

Bringing SheEO to New Zealand is one way I am hoping to achieve that. SheEO is a global community of women transforming the way we finance, support and celebrate female entrepreneurs who are creating a better world.

International Women’s day is a powerful reminder that standing together women have changed the world and can continue to do so.

DAME JOY COWLEY – Children’s author

I’m a Catholic and it’s a church where women don’t have much say at all despite the fact they are responsible for all the church and they contribute to half of it.

Generally where authority and where structures are concerned they’re usually man-made and that’s fine because I think that men and women are complementary to each other, but it’s the men who miss out if women aren’t involved.

Children's book author Joy Cowley.
Children’s book author Joy Cowley.

It’s been all one way and in some ways, men fail to complete themselves when they become the Donald Trumps of the world. I think that we complete each other. My husband Terry and I often say that we are one person called ‘us’. We’re exact opposites and that’s very good.

To younger women, I would say, ‘start off by being true to yourself’. To quote dear old Shakespeare, ‘You can’t be false to anybody else if you’re true to yourself’. Sometimes women are looking for role models, well, they are their own role model.

JULIE CHAPMAN – KidsCan chief executive and founder

I’ve always been unapologetic about being a loud voice in the fight against child poverty.

For me, IWD is a chance to acknowledge the women who don’t have a voice; the women whose achievements you won’t read about in the paper.

KidsCan chief executive and founder Julie Chapman.
KidsCan chief executive and founder Julie Chapman.

In the communities that KidsCan supports, many women are holding their families together on incomes many of us can’t comprehend. We make sure their kids are fed and fuelled for learning – but I often ask mums if they have enough to eat themselves. The answer is often a quiet, heartbreaking ‘no.’

They sacrifice, day in and out without recognition, in the hope they can make things better for the next generation.

They are selfless, strong, resilient women. Too often people judge them when they can’t make ends meet. Today, let’s celebrate everything they do which we don’t notice enough.

VANISA DHIRU – National Council of Women NZ president

IWD is a chance to highlight all women, showcasing their skills and achievements.

It’s a time when we can stop and look at progress for women around the globe – both the highlights and the issues we still need to work on.

Vanisa Dhiru, president of the National Council of Women, and spokesperson for the Gender Equal NZ campaign
Vanisa Dhiru, president of the National Council of Women, and spokesperson for the Gender Equal NZ campaign

Every year the day has a theme and that gives us the opportunity to stop and think. This year’s theme about balance for better – understanding that gender balance is good for women, men, and all other genders.

As Kate Sheppard famously said, ‘All that separates whether of race, class, creed or sex is inhuman and must be overcome’. While discrimination can be more subtle than it once was, gender inequality is revealed in our everyday interactions, attitudes and assumptions.

We need to change that – and it’s conversations about today’s issues which will help shape New Zealand to truly be gender equal.

DAME CATHERINE HEALY – sex workers’ rights advocate

IWD is an opportunity to reflect on which women matter because undoubtedly there is a hierarchy. ‘She’s a good woman’ we’ve all heard that. Presumably, there are many who aren’t ‘good’ women. As the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women gears up for its 63rd session next week, I am thinking about social protections that need to be enhanced to cover all women.

Dame Catherine Healy, sex workers' rights activist.
Dame Catherine Healy, sex workers’ rights activist.

Sex workers obviously have a long history of being perceived as the ‘bad’ women and in many parts of the world are not beneficiaries of social protections that cover all other women.

Simple things like opening a bank account to the more complicated things like securing a place to live are not achievable. I am enormously proud to come from a country where these distinctions are less pronounced and real attempts have been made to bring us into the fold.

GEORGINA BEYER – World’s first transgender mayor and former Labour Party MP

International Women’s Day is a celebration of what women around the world have managed to achieve. On one hand we celebrate how women have come so far, but there’s also so much more to do.

Some of today’s issues are fairly universal, like income inequality.

Former MP and mayor Georgina Beyer.
Former MP and mayor Georgina Beyer.

But in New Zealand our domestic violence statistics are appalling, and we should take the lead in how to address that, and women, in particular, should have a role in that.

We should also use our power in more liberated countries like New Zealand to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with women internationally in situations of war and sex-trafficking. It behoves us not just to talk but to agitate for action to alleviate suffering for those many millions of women.

SALLY GEPP – Forest & Bird lawyer

Today is a day to celebrate our successes (even though we find that hard). It’s a day to recognise the potential in the women around us and give them a hand up when they need it.

It’s an opportunity to recognise the unpaid work that women do and the urgent need to share that burden equitably.

Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp.
Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp.

It’s also a day to stop trying to fit into systems that men have created and instead, insist that the systems change to reflect our values and needs.

Why are we still under-represented on corporate boards? Why are only 30 per cent of our judges women, despite female lawyers outnumbering male lawyers for years? Why are we still held back by the burden of more than our fair share of unpaid work?

Striving for excellence can only take women so far, now it’s time to speak up for ourselves, for other women, and for the men in our lives. Let’s make our homes, workplaces and institutions truly equitable.

Then, New Zealand can show the rest of the world how it’s done.

SHILA NAIR – Shakti counsellor

Every day should be IWD. It is rather meaningless to dedicate one day every year to women, so that we may acknowledge and recognise how valuable they are to us.

What we need to do is to treat women with the dignity and respect they rightfully deserve as daughters, wives, mothers, aunties, daughters-in-law and grandmothers.

Shila Nair of the Shakti Community Council.
Shila Nair of the Shakti Community Council.

We need to be supportive of their need to exercise their rights and to enable them to live free of fear, abuse and violence. Social injustice and culturally-sanctioned forms of abuse make women within several communities second-class citizens and merely a means to a family’s end.

All women ask for, is to able to access their fundamental human rights and be given equal opportunities, free of gender bias. If we can achieve that we do not need to celebrate IWD. Rather, we celebrate women, every day.

MAI CHEN – Chen Palmer law firm managing partner

IWD means that we haven’t succeeded yet in making gender a non-issue.

We need to move away from gender and race and other demographic characteristics to a recognition that we all have unique identities.

Mai Chen, lawyer and chair of the Superdiversity Centre.
Mai Chen, lawyer and chair of the Superdiversity Centre.

No gender is special or of higher status, no skin colour or ethnicity. Everyone should be treated with equal dignity and respect.

We need to keep working on redefining merit.