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.
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!