On Thursday 4 July 2019, we celebrated turning one as a Fund with a special breakfast event at Skycity in Hamilton. Our two guest speakers have kindly shared their speech notes. Enjoy!
Ko Tainui te waka, ko Owhāwhe te maunga, ko Rere-Waitomo Ki Waipā te awa, ko Ngāti Maniapoto te iwi, ko Ngāti Uekaha-Ruapūha te hapū.
I joined Waikato Womens Fund in April this year, and it is an honour for me to stand in front of you all, the supporters of the Waikato Women's Fund, as a new member fortunate to have the opportunity to share some insight into my story. If I may be so bold, it is my hope that I can inspire you and perhaps through that inspiration, contribute in some way to bringing us all closer together as women, and as sisters under the mantle of the Waikato Women's Fund.
I’d like to start by saying, that I believe every woman has a story that is worth sharing, and worth hearing. We who stand up here before you today, we are not an anomaly. Every single woman is extraordinary. Every single woman is a powerful being. With every moon that ebbs and flows, we have the potential and the ability to create life or not, and to house life or not – that is what we call mana wahine. Because of the whare tangata, the womb, or the house of people, and our ability to house entire families and sub tribes, every woman has huge potential to not only create positive change in ourselves, but to affect change in large groups of people.
I see this power and this potential every day, in the women I know but also the women I hardly know and am fortunate to cross paths with. There are also times where I have realised it, lived it and breathed it myself in my own life. We are daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, wives and partners, therefore by default, we are life-givers, nurturers, teachers, healers and leaders. I believe the majority of us don’t even know our own power. The reality is, we can be untouchable and unstoppable if we so wish.
I would like to acknowledge each of you for making it here today, to this space, this event, this room…and at this time of the morning! I would like to acknowledge the people and the places you are from, as well as the unique and important journey that belongs to you and you alone. I reiterate again, that it is a huge honour for me to stand before you all and have the opportunity to share some of the experiences, places and people who have influenced me in my journey as a woman coming into my own power.
So, a bit about me.
I am a Kemetic Yoga instructor, and I’ve just finished 18 months of training as a Facilitator of Women's Safety Groups at Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project. I also work fulltime as the manager to high profile artist and producer Tiki Taane and his companies (he also happens to be my little brother).
Mum is English and Scottish and though Dad was from Waitomo, he was sent to Christchurch in the 1960’s and it was there that my siblings and I were born and raised. Due to the distance, we were isolated from whanau and lived in a community where there were a few Maori families living in railway houses, but everyone else was Pakeha and either conservative, a hippy or of the Subud faith.
Growing up in a predominantly Pakeha community, I soon realised that my sister Maurz and I, as well as the few other Maori girls at our school, were different, and we were a minority. Maurz and I attended Avonside Girls High School which is where our Mum, Aunty and Nanna went to before us.
My first ever experience of knowing my power as a woman, was when I stood up to my lovely gentle father one day, perhaps for the first time ever, at the age of 15. We were debating something and I defiantly opposed his opinion on it, because I fiercely did not agree. I recall seeing a mixture of both awe and fear in Dad’s eyes, and he immediately backed down. That was the beginning for me of really understanding how powerful I can be as a woman, and it was such a potent experience that Dad still talks about it now, he refers to it as the time he learnt of my “mana wahine”.
Mum and Dad separated, and I changed from Avonside Girls High to Hagley College, an adult adolescent school. I signed up for a year of Women’s Studies, and it was through this course that I first learnt about the oppression of women, through history and different cultures, but in particular in Aotearoa.
I fell into alcohol and drugs at the age of 16 and into the Christchurch punk scene. I recall my 18th birthday, while flatting – I wrote an alluring poem inviting women of different kinds, colours, shapes and sizes to come celebrate at home with me. It asked that they come wearing their favourite colour, and come in good spirits. On the day, around 40 women turned up and squeezed into my bedroom, all resplendent in their different colours.. and what a blast we had, getting to know each other all day and night. That night, we walked as a group to a concert in town, and it was quite a sight for sore eyes, such a large, colourful group of women walking and chanting with arms linked, while people stopped and watched with their jaws dropping. That whole experience was the beginning for me of really understanding how powerful SISTERHOOD can be, to the point that women who are complete strangers to each other, can come together and generate such kinship, connection and energy.
One year later, I moved to Auckland where I became a peep show dancer and a stripper. Working in this role, in one of the oldest industries in existence taught me not only the vulnerability of women, but also reinforced for me the immense power of women. One way I experienced this, was via the many different shades of the male gaze, which varied from complete objectification and entitlement, to complete worship and adulation.
Despite that the industry was run by men, it was of course, heavily populated by women.
In the stripclubs, there would be anywhere between 3 to 12 girls working on a shift. I would often go and sit with the girls in the massage parlour next door while we all waited for our next job. It was in these environments that I developed friendships with a wealth of women from all walks of life – all ages, and all cultures. There were mothers working in order to care for their children, there were students working to pay for their studies, women who held down legitimate careers by day and worked by night, foreign women whose husbands had sent them to work, women who were hiding their job from their husbands and families, young girls who fell into it straight out of school, girls whose mothers had done it and didn’t know any different.. you name it – we had it. The more I learnt about the others, the more I grew to really love and respect women and all our diversity.
While the stripclub environment could get competitive and even catty at times, it was the sisterhood amongst us that was most extraordinary, and that was the quality which I loved to foster. Keeping the morale up behind the scenes, helping my sisters rise up above and beyond the dramas we were facing in not only the job but our personal lives too. The male bosses always used to get intimidated by the sense of sisterhood we could create, because they could feel the power of it. It was unspoken, but they knew that if we were not happy as a collective, there was always the potential of an uprising of epic proportions.
I spent four years in the sex industry, and after leaving, I quit alcohol and drugs also and have now been clean and sober for 18 years.
At the age of 23, I embarked upon a mission to reconnect with my Dad’s whanau and culture. His mother Inuwai Ngoru had passed away by then, but the stories of her mana reverberated through all who knew her, and left a huge impact on me. I used to ponder her reality and the fact that she birthed 18 children throughout her life. I’ve had three children and cannot even begin to fathom how life would have really been for her in terms of her physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Nanny Ngoru was a native speaker, and by all accounts she was a traditionalist, an incredibly hardworking woman around her home which she treated as the marae, a healer who worked with native medicine and it also was not uncommon to see her wielding traditional weaponry during our cultural ceremonies. In terms of my own journey reconnecting back to my father’s people, it is Nanny Ngoru who I consider to be my main shining light that guides me upon that journey. I have a long way to go.
Other women who inspired me throughout my upbringing, were my mother and her mother, Nanna Phyl who has also passed on now. Nanna was old school English and Scottish – she taught us to knit, to write a really good letter, to recycle wrapping paper, do crosswords, walk every day for our health, eat veges, have etiquette, always be polite to people and use our manners, and to care for others and be of service.
Over the years, I also worked under the mantle of some incredible female mentors, often pioneers, across different industries - film and television, Māori public health, event management, and fitness. When I became a mother, my whanau and I moved to Hamilton where I soon took on the role as manager to my brother Tiki Taane.
The sixteen year relationship with the father of my three children ended 3 years ago. Over those years, I became isolated, insecure and unconfident, I barely spoke of my past, and hid the truth of my relationship from my whanau. I struggled to find a way to leave what I knew to be a toxic and often dangerous situation for myself and my children, due to a stubborn belief that I was lucky to even have the father of my children around.
One of the lifelines for me during that time, was 12 years ago, when we joined Waikato kapahaka Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri from Ngaruawahia. As I had never done kapahaka before, I spent my first five years on the sideline, supporting my children's father and supporting the group and kaupapa with fitness programmes and general administration. Eventually, I got in the lines and learnt kapahaka for a few years, and it was throughout this time, within the ranks of the women, that I truly encountered a whole other level of mana wahine, being amongst such fearsome and extraordinary exponents of this expression of our culture and values.
There were many other key events and environments in my life that stand out in terms of learning of the power of women. One of these was in 2016, after my separation, when I travelled with two other women (and three men) to the North Dakota occupation of Standing Rock. It was here that I again experienced the beautiful korowai or cloak that is sisterhood, through unspoken connection, respect and trust when uniting with indigenous women of other nations on the frontline. It was truly something special.
After I returned home from Standing Rock, I was faced with the worst trauma of my life, when I lost contact and care of my children for one year through the Family Court, ordered as effective immediately. With no opportunity to be heard in Court, or to stand against the claims made against me, I knew I had a long fight on my hand, but it was the most important fight I could ever take up. I ended up taking a whikoi or a march to Parliament, to petition for an inquiry into the Family Court system. I was very fortunate to have some incredible women join me on that whikoi in a profound gesture of trust, support and commitment, and to this day I maintain the vow I made to them, that should they ever need the same gesture in return in this lifetime, I will provide that to them and their whānau any time they call on me.
End of 2017, my children were returned to my care by the Family Court, and one of the most beautiful things that happened after was the news that my 14 year old daughter was hapū, or pregnant with child. She has been through quite the journey over the last couple of years, she has experienced things that young women should not have to experience Yet through it all, I have watched her exercise huge maturity, diligence and resilience that is streaks beyond anything I have ever known. I am so proud of her for rising beyond the assumptions and the judgment of others, and taking up the mantle of being an incredible devoted mother to my mokopuna. She truly is one of my greatest inspirations and heroes and I am proud to be her mother.
So, this all brings me to April this year, when I ended up at the Waikato Women's Fund website. I am involved in a couple of wellbeing projects, and as a mother who has experienced trauma, with a daughter who has experienced trauma, I am often curious to learn what initiatives or entities there are to support women in this region. I am also aware there are some incredible women in Waikato doing incredible things for women, who may need support, some of whom are sitting at my table and I’m sure there are many in this room alone. I was rapt to discover that the Waikato Women's Fund, a community of generous women who work together to create opportunities for women and girls here.
To me, the fund’s very existence hints at new hope and new potential for women in Waikato today. The fact that there is an entity devoted to the wellbeing and potential of women is a huge relief, and the fact that we can donate any amount in order to become a member speaks volumes to the openness of the kaupapa. I would like to acknowledge those who established the Fund, and also all those who support the fund.
In closing, if you were to ask me, what is my vision for young women growing up in Waikato, I will most probably reply that I will need to consult with my daughter first. The climate, technology and environment that our young women are growing up in today is worlds apart from that of my upbringing. I have some ideas around issues that we face, but do not claim to know what is best. So I suppose that in itself says a lot – that perhaps my vision for young women in Waikato is that as the young leaders of this world and space, they be directly involved in forging the pathway into the best way forward. Ultimately, my hope would be, that young Waikato women can find initiatives here that support them to have a voice, to find wellness, to feel freedom and ultimately, to discover their power.
I hope that my story in some way helps somebody here, even if it is that you might have found a piece of yourself connecting with a small part of it.
Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to share this morning. I reiterate again, that it is a huge honour for me to stand before you all, to stand with you all, the incredible nurturers, teachers, healers and leaders of Waikato. I hope that if not today, then some day in future, I get to meet you in person and have the privilege of hearing your story.
E kore e mutu ngaku mihi ki a koutou katoa e ngā rau rangatira mā, nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.
Thank you for the invitation to talk with you this morning and participate in a most important fund-raising event.
Unfortunately, I did not make the launch of the Fund but now I am pleased to add my support. I noted the first grants appropriately described as meeting an urgent need while building resilience and capacity for a brighter future. The focus of building women’s capacity and well-being within our community must be one of the most-worthy reasons to give support and grow the fund.
I was also attracted to the comments of Dellwyn Stuart focussing on the distinctive nature of women’s giving and the fact women want to make change through creating new solutions, and that when we invest in women we invest in our community and create a fairer society for everyone. As Michelle Howie noted also, this new ‘nest egg’ created by Waikato women for Waikato women.
The need for such a fund is apparent from any review of the position of women and girls today. Of course, we have come some distance since women were given the right to vote and thereby have a say in the decisions that affect us all, but we still have some distance to go before women can say we have control over our own lives, make our own decisions and in particular have the financial resources to make that reality for all women.
I have spent 40 years working in a variety of roles for the equality of women, in particular the financial equality of women. I learnt from my mother that without financial equality you are always dependent on others – your husband, partner or the state – and this places constraint on women to achieve our full potential no matter how good your relationships. My parents were married for over 60 years but the only money that could truly be her money was the family benefit and when that was taken away by the Fourth Labour government it was not until she received the superannuation that she gained her ‘own’ money and that was despite the fact she worked in minimum wage jobs for most of her life.
The need to be financially independent became a stark reality when I had cancer at 17 and had my leg amputated above the knee. How to earn a living with a disability became a matter of urgency. I still am not sure why I chose to study law except I thought it would give me a living and from what I could see lawyers tended to sit down most of the day. I made this decision in 1965 and at that time had no idea that it was not accepted that women studied let alone practiced law. This was an early example of being ignorant sometimes is not a bad thing because you just get on and do it. I cannot say being 6 or 7 women amongst 200 law students was easy but it was the 1960s when anything seemed possible if you organised.
The combination of legal study and feminist activism made me realise that while inequality of women was irrational, it was not to be changed easily because the law in particular entrenched a male experience in legal rules and those rules were applied to both men and women as though they were equal when they were not. We had been assigned social and economic roles that we were taught were natural. Of course, they were not natural for all men and women – many of us were not suited to our assigned role.
Although when I entered paid employment in early 1970s there were very few women practising law, by the mid 1970s women were entering the law schools in great numbers and have slowly since then entered the practice of law in a variety of fields. It did not take me long to understand that while we were all meant to be equal before the law, some were more equal than others. My personal revelation was reading what were called the ‘persons cases’ in the UK where the courts decided women were not persons for the purpose of voting at the end of the 19th century. Although we felt somewhat smug that NZ had given women the vote in 1893, the first woman did not enter Parliament until the 1930s. In reality our legal system very much reflected the male experience, whether when making laws in Parliament or interpreting them in the courts.
Some of us embarked in the 1980s on a long-term campaign to ensure our laws were equally interpreted to be inclusive but that we had laws that addressed our experiences and interests, such as paid parental leave, division of relationship property, equal pay for work of equal value, and freedom from discrimination because of our sex. Most importantly we have sought personal security and freedom from violence. I soon learnt however that while we may be changing the laws, we also needed to change the practices. This is a much harder task.
I have just read the book by Caroline Criado Perez titled Invisible Women Exposing Data Bias in a World designed for Men. She starts with a quote from Simone de Beauvoir –
“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men: they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”
The book is full of examples of how decisions, policies, analyses of issues are all made based on the male experience. The way we organise our lives is based on the convenience of men. This is an exaggeration of course but if we reflect on why things are the way they are we may be surprised how if given the opportunity we may make different decisions. For example, a trivial but important example for some of us – why there so few women toilets in every public building. More seriously why have women been substantially written out of history – she gives a revealing example of how an artefact was found with 28 notches and interpreted as men’s early attempt to count but as a woman anthropologist asked to whom is 28 days more important – women of course anxious about her menstrual cycle. Why is women’s sport so unreported and recognised for achievement?
I could give many such examples but for me on an important level she also recounts examples of when women make policy they can achieve successful outcomes for everyone. For example, in Sweden when it was decided to decrease the number of injuries due to snow and ice. The traditional answer had been to clear the roads but the date said there were more injuries on footpath s from women and children and once they were accorded a priority for clearance the number of injuries declines. This was example of looking at women’s lives and making policy for them that in reality can benefit everyone. Think of the policy issues before us every day and try to impose women’s experience as the norm experience and then make policy to address that experience.
I am not explaining myself very well but the point I wanted to make is that women must be everywhere decisions are made that affect us – in particular local and national government but also in business. We do see the world differently because that is our lived experience. At the moment, there is much talk about technology and how it is changing our lives. I believe it is and that to some extent it is inevitable but I also believe how it changes our lives for better or worse depends on who controls the technology and that is not women. We know this from the reality that social media is often not a safe space for women to use. Also, does it really help us do our work by working at home intruding into our family and social time. Is it really too hard to organise our work and family so that we do not spend so much time in traffic.
The Waikato Women’s Fund had the capacity to enable women’s innovation to be developed and shared with our community. From time to time we all need support and being able to give that support can benefit us all. Caroline Criado Perez concluded her research with this observation that I think it is relevant this morning. She wrote “When we exclude half of humanity from the production of knowledge we lose out on important insights.” So, may I add my thanks to our commitment and effort through the fund to support both women and through women the community with continuing transformative insights.