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Are we part of our own demise?

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Kerri Nuku, Kaewhakahaere
Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa NZNO

This week we marked International Women’s Day and the achievements of women seeking gender equality and a future where your gender is not a hindrance or an obstacle.

Aotearoa has had its own share of sheroes. Perhaps the most well documented are the women from suffrage movement in the late 1800s whose actions led to a landmark legislation that saw New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which women had the right to vote.

The campaigners led by Kate Sheppard were extraordinary for their times. Her feminist acts have been immortalised on our $10 bank note, commemorative stamps, and the statue in the heart of Wellington, inspiring both young and old.

Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, also an eminent campaigner and landowner, was the first woman to stand for the Māori Parliament, for the rights for women to vote and as a member of Parliament. She is noted for her contribution to Māori.

These women were not alone in their struggles. From the suffrage movement of the 1800s to Ihumatao and even our own fight for Pay Equity, these are still features of today. Strength, resilience and tenacity are the ingredients required to counter the stereotypes, racism, violence, misogyny, and discrimination that women continue to face while driving the equality agenda.

I have often personally struggled when someone calls themselves a feminist. Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia is not noted in history as being feminist, but she was a wahine toa. The language used to describe her mana is often minimised in comparison to others of the suffrage movement. So, feminism isn’t the act of burning the bra or how much or how little makeup, jewellery or the type of clothes you wear; it’s a reflection of the decisions, actions and choices you make to advocate against all resistance for the rights of women.

As a predominately female organisation and profession our own fights continue. While the attacks from politicians may not be as overt as the attacks against Pania Newton at Ihumato, the inaction and ignorance are just as brutal.

I wondered what we can learn from the history of the suffrage movement, the history of our wahine, to inform our future. Could the language I use be holding us back? As a profession I often draw the distinction between nurse and nursing, the role of the nurse is very well defined and articulated by the profession, but what of nursing? Doctors don’t talk of doctoring neither do any of the other health professional groups, so could the fact that the word nursing is used so commonly be contributing to one of our concerns around promoting the skilled role that nurses do.

A mother who breastfeeds is often referred to as nursing her baby, a sick person can be nursed at home, the use of nurse and nursing can be undertaken by people who may never have had any formal training.

We also talk about being “at the table” or being “invited to the table where the decisions are made”. This adopts a subservient approach, needing or seeking affirmation as opposed to doing as the pioneers continue to do, build strength and unity and have courage to stand on our own platforms. The coming National Day of Action on 15 April is our opportunity to do that!

I want to finish by acknowledging Georgina Beyer, her undeniable belief in herself, her strength and resilience, and who achieved so much and inspired many. She was, a member of Parliament who supported progressive policies including the prostitution law reforms, civil unions and anti-discrimination laws, as well as being an elected mayor.

Mate kotahitanga e whai kaha ai tātou.
In unity we have strength.

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