By Te Ururoa Flavell
The concept of mana wāhine is one that I try to acknowledge on a regular basis. I am surrounded by strong and intelligent women at every turn – at work, in the communities I serve and of course in my own whānau. It’s something that we all grow up seeing, be it in supportive mothers, bossy aunties and driven work colleagues. But for many of the women in New Zealand, the assertion of mana is an uphill climb. Events this week prompted me to really think of how important it is to recognise the supreme importance of having strong women to lead our nation at every level and also served as a reminder of just how far we have come.
I am to give a speech today at the Māori Women’s Welfare League National Conference. It is only fitting, though, that the various men speaking on the paepae – prominent business and political figures – will all be preceded as is tradition by the opening address from a young Māori woman.
The MWWL stands out for me as an organisation that has done much good and had a lot of media coverage over the years. When I was in University, names like Whina Cooper and Mira Szászy (the first Māori woman to graduate with a degree from Auckland University) conjured strong images of struggle and empowerment – social revolution on a small scale. I attended the pōwhiri for the conference this morning and took in the incredible legacy of 60 years of Māori women working to help their people.
Half a century after the establishment of the MWWL, Māori women continue to make their mark on Aotearoa. Take one Michelle Hippolite, former kaihautū of Te Papa Museum and student of Queen Victoria Māori Girls’ School. The Minister of Māori Affairs this week welcomed Michelle as CEO of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development. With experience in a number of portfolio areas, a strong credibility and expansive networks throughout te ao Māori and New Zealand, Michelle epitomises modern mana.
It is not easy for any Māori woman to rise through the ranks of public service and take out a top job – they must work hard to garner the respect of their peers before opportunities like this open up.
Of course, I see expressions of mana wāhine not just in female executives or leaders of organisations or my Parliamentary colleagues. I mostly see examples of mana wāhine in the women of my electorate – the mothers and nannies and sisters and friends who revolutionise their families or even just keep them afloat. The Māori Party policy of Whānau Ora draws on all of our resources to restore the essence of who we are and put the vibrant traditions of our people at the heart of our whānau. There is no better resource for initiatives like Whānau Ora than the determination and commitment of the countless women who work to support their whānau.
Te Ururoa Flavell is the Māori Party Whip and MP for Waiariki.