International Women’s Day: we need more women to stand for local councils


The parade for International Women’s Day in Te Marae o Hine.

March the 8th is International Women’s Day. This year, there was a big celebration in Te Marae o Hine, the Square in Palmerston North, with a parade and puppets and singing and dancing. And speakers. I was honoured to be invited to give a speech.

I spoke from notes rather than from a fully-written out speech, so here is a reconstruction of what I said.


Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa!

Thank you for the great honour of asking me to speak today.

I’ve got three things to talk about. First, I’m going to celebrate some local women. Then, because I’m an academic, I’m going to tell you about some interesting research about women. And last, I’m going to ask you to do something.

Here are the local women I want to celebrate. From Manawatu District Council, the fabulous mayor, Margaret Kouvelis. She’s someone I really admire. And from her council, three more women who are district councillors, Barbara Cameron, Jo Heslop, and Alison Short. There’s a council of eleven people in Manawatu District, so that’s four women out of eleven councillors.

Here in Palmerston North, five great women who are on council: Aleisha Rutherford, Annette Nixon, Leonie Hapeta, Susan Baty, and of course, Rachel Bowen. (Rachel was the speaker immediately before me.) There’s sixteen people on council in Palmerston North, including the mayor, so that’s five women out of sixteen.

Our local District Health Board is pretty good. There are seven elected positions, and four of them are held by women: Diane Anderson, Ann Chapman, Karen Naylor, and Barbara Robson.


Me speaking at the 2016 International Women’s Day celebrations

Then there’s Horizon’s Regional Council. There are twelve councillors on the regional council. The women on Horizons Regional Council are Colleen Sheldon and Rachel Keedwell and …

And that’s it. Just two women on a council of twelve. If ever there was a council stuffed full of men, Horizons Regional Council is it.

So all up, there are about 46 elected positions on local local bodies, and about one third of them are held by women.

Ladies, sisters, we are under-represented. And we need to do something about it.

There are a couple of research findings that are interesting here.

When it comes to women being elected onto local councils, it turns out that numbers matter. Women are elected in the proportion in which they stand. So if a third of the candidates are women, then a third of the people who are elected will be women.

So we need to get more women to stand.

But here’s the other research finding. You know the old story about men seeing that they can do half the tasks needed for a job, and deciding that they’re a perfect fit, and women seeing one task that they can’t do, so they don’t apply at all? It turns out that for many women, getting them past that “I can’t do that” barrier is just a matter of someone shoulder tapping them. Someone saying to them, “Hey. You would be good at this.”

We need to start doing some shoulder tapping.

Here’s the things you can do to get more women onto local councils.

First up, think about standing yourself. We’re all active and engaged women, and we’d be good! So consider yourselves shoulder tapped.

If standing for council is not the right thing for you, how about shoulder tapping some other women you know. Maybe some of them would be good. Perhaps you know ngā wãhine Māori who have been working in their iwi and on their marae. Perhaps you come from a migrant community, and there’s someone there who would be great. Maybe you know a nurse, a mum, a business woman, a teacher – someone who would do a great job on council. Tell them. Shoulder tap them and ask them to stand.

While we’re thinking about great women, a shout out to some of the local women who had a go at standing last time around. People like Gabrielle Bundy-Cooke and Lorna Johnson and Karen Naylor and Abi Symes. They would all be great on our council.

And there’s one more thing you can do. After you’ve shoulder tapped someone, help her out in her campaign. Perhaps you can manage her campaign for her. Perhaps you can deliver leaflets, or drive her to meetings, or turn up at meetings to back her. She will have a lot of work to do, and she will need your help.

Kia kaha, sisters. Stand strong. And let’s look forward to celebrating many more women this time next year.

Happy International Women’s Day!



For the record, here’s what my notes for this speech look like.  This is why my post is a reconstruction, rather than a copy-and-paste.

1080 and threatening babies

When I was campaigning, I came across a few people who opposed the use of 1080 poison. Their reasons varied: some thought that possums were darling creatures who did no harm, others wanted their dogs to be safe in the bush, still others argued that the bush fell silent after 1080 drops. They all wanted to know what I thought about using 1080 to control possums and other introduced pests.

“I follow the science,” was my standard reply. And the science is very very clear: 1080 is very effective with respect to controlling possums and other pests, and it does minimal harm.

There is scads of actual research supporting this conclusion. Not anecdotes, not hunters’ tales, but scientific research, conducted using standard scientific protocols. And the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment backs the use of 1080. If the evidence changes, and by that, I mean that if the *scientific* evidence changes, then I will change my mind about using 1080. But until then, it’s the best weapon we’ve got against possums and other pests that are decimating our native bush and wildlife.

So when some nasty person, or group of people, threatens to poison babies because they don’t like 1080, then like most New Zealanders, I’m outraged. It is never right to threaten babies in order to make a political point.

More than that, I’m sad and angry for the parents who are trying to do their best for their children. Feeding my babies was a lovely time for us, most of the time. It was about cuddles and talking and eye contact and cherishing my littlies, even in the turmoil of trying to manage twins. Moments of tenderness and love for us.

How many parents are now upset and worried because some fool thinks it’s okay to threaten babies. There are so many things wrong with this action, but the one that is biting deep for me is this robbing parents of moments of joy and tenderness with their children.

As I tweeted yesterday, I think that the anti-1080 lobby in New Zealand will have lost a lot of its supporters now.

John Key and Middlemarch

What astonishes me is that John Key expects us to believe him, when even the nation’s leading newspapers are expressing scepticism about his honesty: one, two, three.

Watch this video of him answering questions about what he said to reporters and parliament about his contact with Cameron Slater: Key: I am not actively contacting Slater.

And now they’re starting to question his whole story around the black ops campaign his “office” ran. From this morning’s Dominion Post editorial:

This is an appeal to the professionalism of the spy agencies and the honour of Government politicians. Both have suffered terrible damage in the past few days. The report by intelligence watchdog Cheryl Gwyn destroyed the reputation of former SIS boss Warren Tucker. It showed that senior members of the prime minister’s office used grossly misleading information provided by Tucker to attack the credibility of then Opposition leader Phil Goff.

The report did not examine whether Key was involved in that smear campaign. Events now strongly suggest he was. He had to do a sudden U-turn in Parliament this week after denying any recent contact with Cameron Slater, the man who used the slanted SIS report to smear Goff. Key’s texts show a jokey relationship with Slater even though the blogger has caused his Government endless trouble. Who believes Key didn’t know about the SIS leak to Slater?

Mr Key is taking us for fools, thinking that we simply can’t detect his obfuscations and evasions.

It makes me think of a wonderful passsage in Middlemarch. A rich old man is dying, and his relatives are gathering, each determined to get the largest possible share of his estate. A young woman, Mary, is quietly caring for him, and watching the scene.

She sat tonight revolving, as she was wont, the scenes of the day, her lips often curling with amusement at the oddities to which her fancy added fresh drollery: people were so ridiculous with their illusions, carrying their fool’s caps unawares, thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything, as if when all the world looked yellow under a lamp they alone were rosy.

…thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything.

I do not understand why John Key thinks that we can’t see through his lies. Smile and wave and “I’m comfortable with that” is over.

Women in the House – updating the numbers

All the special votes have been counted, and as a result, Maureen Pugh (National) has lost her list seat, and Steffan Browning (Greens) comes in instead.

That changes the numbers around. We’re down to 38 women in the House, out of 121 MPs. That’s just 31.4% women – the lowest proportion of women in the House since 2002 (graph, txt file).

Here’s the breakdown by party, excluding the one person “parties” both of which are represented by men.

Greens – 7 men, 7 women, 50% women
Maori – 1 man, 1 woman, 50% women
Labour – 20 men, 12 women, 37.5% women
National – 43 men, 17 women, 28% women
New Zealand First – 9 men, 2 women, 18% women

Women are 51% of the population, but less than a third of our elected representatives in Parliament are women. That’s a disgrace.

Women in the House – some numbers from the 2014 election

Based on the election night results, we will have 121 MPs in the House, of whom 39 will be women. That’s 32.2%. It’s the same proportion of women as there was following the election in 2011, and it’s down from 34% in 2008.

Excluding parties with just one MP (ACT and United Future), here are the numbers for each party.

Greens – 6 men, 7 women, 54% women
Maori – 1 man, 1 woman, 50% women
Labour – 20 men, 12 women, 37.5% women
National – 44 men, 17 women, 28% women
New Zealand First – 9 men, 2 women, 18% women

Well done to the Greens and the Maori party.

My own party needs to do some very careful work on selection. The proportion of women in the Labour caucus doesn’t meet the party’s goal of 45% at this election, and it’s slipped backwards from 2011. We lost three strong women last night – Moana Mackey, Carol Beaumont, and Maryan Street – and that’s very hard to take.

We have good Maori and Pasifika representation in caucus, but no Chinese New Zealanders, and no Indian New Zealanders.

UPDATE: The numbers have changed due to special votes – see Women in the House – updating the numbers.

I’m running for Parliament

I’m running for Parliament this year, and I could do with a hand. Pop on over to my campaign blog: Deborah Russell for Labour in Rangitīkei, take a look at what I’ve been doing, and please, consider whether you could help me by making a donation.

I’ll be needing the donations to help pay for this:

Campaign plane!

Seriously, I could do with a hand. Details about how to make a donation, and what they will be used for, are on my campaign blog: Donate to my campaign.

Thank you.

Suffragist’s campaign seasoning

A friend sent me this, for my campaign.

Suffragist Salt

Suffragist Salt

Suffragists’ Campaign Seasoning
Italian Herbed Salt
A flavoursome addition to any meal after a long day of signature-collecting

The selection meeting for the Labour candidate for the Rangitikei electorate will be this coming Saturday (14 December). All going well, I shall start using the salt that evening.

And thank you, Ema, for sending me the salt!