Founder of New Zealand’s first Women’s Fund, Dellwyn Stuart, reflects on the gifts we give when we support other women.
I blame my mother. Repeatedly, in a strong clear and insistent voice, she told me ‘girls can do anything’.
This was the mantra of my generation who grew up in the 70s with mothers who could see liberation surging and wanted to make sure their daughters weren’t held back by the norms that had constrained them.
My mother was strong, resourceful, smart and feisty, and these threads of character run through the generations of girls in our family. My mother’s words of wisdom – particularly girls can do anything was a constant refrain throughout my childhood.
We live in a nation where women like my own mother are not particularly unique (not to diminish my dear mum’s wonderful attributes). We are lucky, in Aotearoa, that many of us have grown up in a culture where female empowerment is the accepted norm. It makes it easy to forget sometimes that it’s not the accepted norm everywhere for everyone.
Our blend of strong women is a special one. A percolation of our wāhine toa – our strong indigenous female leaders – combined with the qualities of our practical, give-it-a-go descendants of our pioneering women. The ‘princess culture’, which suggests girls should be sweet and submissive with our most valuable assets being our beauty and ability to be rescued, thankfully has several counter-agents here in our culture.
Our strong New Zealand women are not only the critical glue that largely holds families together, they also hold our communities together. The strength of our women upholds the strength of our communities.
New Zealand’s history and present is full of examples of strong women. Women who break barriers. Women who quietly and loudly challenge the status quo. Women for whom gender may present an obstacle, but who are resolved to break it. Women like Kate Sheppard, Jean Batten, Dame Whina Cooper, Helen Clark, Lorde, Sophie Pascoe, Valerie Adams. Lisa King of Eat My Lunch, scientist Michelle Dickinson of Nano Girl fame and Professor Margaret Brimble, who just this week was named as the first female New Zealand fellow of the Royal Society in London. And let’s not forget Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. As Hillary Clinton noted in her visit this week, there are so many countries that having an unmarried, pregnant PM would just not happen.
In our homes, it’s well documented that mother figures are seriously influential. In the formative years of life, a mother’s physical and emotional presence provides babies with protection from stress and emotional regulation, both of which are critical to healthy brain development and the child’s future wellbeing.
In praise of women, we should not forget empathy. In the generosity business, where I now work, I’ve started specialising in working with women who give. That’s because I’ve realised that largely, women are the major decision makers and influencers in philanthropic activities.
Women regard money as a source of freedom, security and a way to achieve goals. Women share their gains with their wider whānau and their community. They create strong, stable families and communities.
As mothers, we have such powerful roles in our children’s lives. My mother’s gift to me as a woman is that I never feel less than anyone else. I wonder what my children will say my gift to them is?
“Take care of our children. Take care of what they hear, take care of what they see, take care of what they feel. For how the children grow so will be the shape of Aotearoa.”
Dame Whina Cooper.
Dellwyn Stuart is the founder of New Zealand’s first Women’s Fund, now with more than 60 members. The fund will be making its first grants in September to celebrate the spirit of New Zealand’s suffragists. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in joining this group of change makers.