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Photo by Bridget Williams Books

Our Inspiring Women

Meryn Gates, Anya Brookes, Emma Croxson Page, Naomi Melville —

We asked a group of friends to read Barbara Brookes’s "A History of New Zealand Women" and tell us about a woman they admired.

Meryn Gates introduces the book:

In A History of New Zealand Women Barbara Brookes reviews New Zealand’s history through a woman’s lens. The book begins with Aotearoa being named by a woman, Hine-te-Aparangi, and ends with images of Dame Silvia Cartwright, Helen Clark, Tariana Turia, Marama Fox, Jacinda Ardern, Annette King, Metiria Turei and Paula Bennett — women who have contributed to the public and political life of this country. Through the journey from then until now we see how the threads of women’s lives weave through our country’s history. Brookes recounts the struggles of both famous and less well-known women, and there is also the acknowledgement that while some women have broken the glass ceiling, so many others are prevented from realising their full potential by limiting attitudes.

Anya Brookes

My name is Anya. I’m 16 years old and I go to Wellington High School. I love playing the piano and my favourite subject at school currently is Biology.

Despite still facing major issues with equality and women’s rights in our society today, major leaps of progress have been made over hundreds of years by the amazing women featured in this book.

After having read various enlightening stories of empowerment and success, I was able to better understand that all gains come with true struggle and hardship. This is why I am now so grateful to have gained a better understanding and a whole new appreciation for the effort women throughout New Zealand’s history have put into making far less grief for our lives in society today.

Although all stories in this book are outstanding and inspiring, I found myself most drawn to the story of courageous Therese O’Connell. Therese was just 18 years old when she made the brave and daring decision to move to Wellington, leaving her home and family back in New Plymouth. In Wellington, Therese attended University and joined a women’s liberation group, eventually helping to set up the Women’s Liberation Front. Together the women fought for issues such as liberating “men-only” bars, promoting a free 24-hour crèche on campus and contraception on demand. These are all things that Therese acknowledged needed doing — and simply, with the Women’s Liberation Front, did. To me, that’s probably the most inspiring thing about Therese’s story. Along with many other women in this book, she saw something that she knew wasn’t right or that needed changing and took action to improve equality in our society.

This made me understand that as a feminist myself, it’s my responsibility and the responsibility of those around me to ensure that people are educated on what feminism really is and how it affects our society. So much progress has been made and these powerful women have shown us that with the right determination and passion, we can make our voices heard. The onus is on us to carry their legacies forward, to continue educating people so that we can all improve our standards of equality and women’s rights in New Zealand.

Emma Croxson Page

I’m Emma and I go to Wellington East Girls’ School. I like drawing and history.

Dr Marilyn Waring is a feminist New Zealander. She has been a politician, environmental and social rights activist, author, academic, feminist economist and more. I had never heard of Marilyn Waring before I read A History of New Zealand Women. But what made her stand out to me was the impact she has made in all spheres of women’s lives. She was one of the youngest New Zealand politicians at the time and one of the only women, yet she held onto her values and stood firm. She pushed for marital rape to be criminalised. When it was time to vote on the issue of New Zealand allowing nuclear ships to visit our ports she withdrew her support of her own party and caused then-Prime Minister Robert Muldoon to call a snap election. Muldoon lost the election and Labour won with one of their main policies being a Nuclear Free NZ. Reading about this story, about how Marilyn possibly changed the course of New Zealand’s history by stubbornly sticking to her values and not giving in, made me even more intrigued. After resigning from parliament Marilyn returned to university lecturing and published her book, If Women Counted, which was all about the amount of unpaid and unrecognised work women contribute to countries’ economies. A documentary film based on the book was later made. Marilyn is working now on a range of issues for the United Nations and is still a prominent activist for gay and women’s rights. I find Marilyn Waring inspiring because she fought hard for women to be recognised and valued and is still fighting for these rights.

Naomi Melville

My name’s Naomi and I go to Wellington High School. I play netball and draw in my spare time.

After flicking through and skim reading the many pages of this book, I was struggling to find a New Zealand woman who truly resonated with me. They all had such amazing stories to tell and I couldn’t connect. However, these stories did give me an understanding of the hardship that New Zealanders have faced, and I could then connect that with the advantages that I have in my own life. I am a Gen-Z fourth-wave feminist and many people have the idea that all feminists believe that females are better than males or that they themselves aren’t feminist because they “don’t hate men”. I came across Ann Hercus, who was a Labour MP for Lyttleton, and reading what she had to say really interested me — she says that “all issues are women’s issues”. She also believes that “women’s perspective can be different from men’s — equally valuable, equally deserving of being heard, but different”. In saying this she is validating the idea of equality, because that’s what feminism is about — equality. Ann Hercus was the first Minister for Women’s Affairs, and also the first female to hold a Police portfolio. In doing these “firsts” she has helped many women in New Zealand to do their own “firsts” — and so much more. 

Tui Motu Magazine. Issue 225, April 2018: 20-21.