Journalist Mihingarangi Forbes was the MC of Wednesday’s launch of #Suffrage125 – the 125th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage petition. There were oysters, cakes and many prominent New Zealand women. But there was an important voice missing.
Why on International Women’s Day did I wake up feeling hōhā?
My great-great-grandmother Jennie Lovell-Smith was part of a movement that fought for and won women the right to vote. Later, my great-great-grandfather married the inimitable Kate Sheppard. My ancestors were Suffragettes, I should be beaming with pride.
We were the first in the world.
But today I wonder if women of colour or indigenous women, definitely Māori women, feel a bit left out. In 2018 while we have come along way, women with privilege and power could be more generous to other women marginalised by race, class and wealth.
The Ministry of Women has launched the #Suffrage125 project to commemorate the Women’s Suffrage Petition. I had the privilege of MCing the event and I was happy to do so. It was a grand affair: hosted by the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy at Government House, and had in attendance a number of prominent New Zealand women who are renowned for their work in pushing for gender equality.
I’m not often called upon to present such prestigious events – I’m the ring in for the school prize giving, a political debate or an awards ceremony. Therefore the pomp and ceremony was intriguing but also quite frightening.
Lizzie Marvelly our resident manutioriori (songbird) delivered an outstanding version of the national anthem, our Minister of Women Julie Anne Genter spoke remembering important women before us and then five young New Zealand women representing cultural and gender differences declared #Suffrage125 open.
Following the proceedings visitors were invited into large rooms to celebrate. Uniformed youth offered up trays of sandwiches, oysters, salmon and cakes for the many women who’d been invited to attend. Super model Rachel Hunter was there, and former Prime Minister Helen Clark too. Patsy Reddy glided through the rooms, making sure to thank everyone for coming.
I whea ngā wāhine Māori? Where were our Māori women?
On the couch sat my plus one Annabelle. She’d come as my support with her baby Waimihia-Rose, and sat alongside Hinemoa Elder and Lizzie Marvelly. Across the way was Georgina Beyer. We were the stronghold of Māori women who had been invited.
— Annabelle Lee (@huihoppa) March 7, 2018
When I looked around the room I didn’t see the colourful puletasi of Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, the first Pacific Island woman to become a New Zealand politician. Or the Māori rights battler and Treaty lawyer Annette Sykes. In fact there wasn’t a sitting Māori or Pasifika MP in sight. Those New Zealanders didn’t seem to be represented here.
While we rightly celebrated the efforts of Kate Sheppard, we didn’t hear of Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, the first woman to address the Māori Parliament and present her motion for Māori women to vote. We didn’t hear about Ngā Komiti Wāhine, a women’s committee which boycotted the Native Land Court to prevent land loss and later set up the first women’s parliament.
Amongst the group of young women who declared #Suffrage125 open, there was no Māori voice to represent the hopes of mana wāhine for the future. We weren’t represented.
International Women’s Day
Unconcious bias or racism is well rooted in the feminist movement across the world – and as Amy McQuire, an indigenous Aboriginal journalist wrote today, mainstream feminism is “still blind to its racism”.
Perhaps we should strive to be “womanists”, the term coined by African-American novelist Alice Walker to incorporate both femininity and culture equally to a woman’s existence. If we could be womanists here in Aotearoa, just imagine how powerful we would be.