On the anniversary of the suffrage movement getting women the vote in New Zealand, we ask Western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga city leaders for their thoughts on what their role means to them, 125 years later.

Tauranga City Councillor Leanne Brown

Tauranga City Council Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa ward representative Leanne Brown. Photo / File
Tauranga City Council Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa ward representative Leanne Brown. Photo / File

"The proportion of women elected to local government has risen one-third over the last 25 years but we are still largely outnumbered. We have two of 11 councillors at Tauranga City Council, however, our executive leadership team is almost all women! When in council I personally feel equal, respected, and enjoy debating issues with knowledge, skill and, when required, emotion or a different layer of communication. It's not always about finance and infrastructure!

"However, on the downside, so often when attending engagements, events and meetings, men still extend their arm to shake hands and greet other men without default, but only sometimes to me, not always. Why not always? I try to shake hands with everyone but sometimes it is just plain awkward and uncomfortable and it shouldn't be.

"How do females greet each other ... a handshake, nod and smile or a hug?! Instinctively it'd be a hug but that's not professional or appropriate in many situations. It can still feel a struggle being a woman in a male-dominated sector. If we are to truly represent our whole community with balanced, considered and, at times, holistic views, we still need more women in leadership roles."

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Tauranga City Councillor Catherine Stewart

Tauranga City Councillor Catherine Stewart has for many years been the only female face of elected members. Now she is one of two. Photo / File
Tauranga City Councillor Catherine Stewart has for many years been the only female face of elected members. Now she is one of two. Photo / File

"It is a privilege and honour to be one of two elected women on Tauranga City Council.

"It is something I don't take for granted. For two trienniums I was the only female face and voice on the council. Now is a great time to reflect on the 1890s and the achievements of Kate Sheppard and her supporters.

"I encourage women to consider putting their names forward during local body elections in 2019."

Bay of Plenty Regional Councillor Paula Thompson

Labour Party list MP Angie Warren-Clark went from manager of the Tauranga Women's Refuge to Parliament in last year's election. Photo / File
Labour Party list MP Angie Warren-Clark went from manager of the Tauranga Women's Refuge to Parliament in last year's election. Photo / File

"The anniversary of women's suffrage is an opportunity to acknowledge and show deep respect for the courage and determination of those that fought tirelessly and fearlessly to succeed in getting women the right to vote; the right to be elected and therefore the right to truly participate in a democratic society.

"Thanks to those of the suffrage movement I and others can share in the responsibilities for the wellbeing of our places, people and all life.

"I feel a deep sense of gratitude to those that have enabled me to work on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council - a council committed to people and environment thriving together.

"We have many challenges: the need for healthy waters including protecting our beautiful Tauranga Harbour; the need to protect our air; the need to make sure we enable communities to help in the preservation and restoration of our great places and wildlife; the need to address climate change and take seriously the responsibilities to do what we can to arrest the inevitable consequences of more severe weather events and sea level rise.

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"We can take heart from those that went before that we can rise to these challenges and thank them for the opportunity."

Bay of Plenty Regional Council deputy chair Jane Nees

Bay of Plenty Regional Council deputy chairwoman and councillor Jane Nees. Photo / File
Bay of Plenty Regional Council deputy chairwoman and councillor Jane Nees. Photo / File

"There are many types of leadership, and so many women provide leadership in different ways. I don't see my role as special - I just feel privileged to have the opportunity to make a difference in our community. I have this opportunity because many people have fought hard yards to give women equal opportunities in society to men. I totally agree with the saying "We stand on the shoulders of giants". I am grateful to those who have stood up for women, like those early suffragettes.

"I remember fighting with my father to go to university instead of secretarial college. He said I was only going to get married and have children. Well, he was right - but that first degree gave me the confidence to go back to university when my fourth child was nearing school age. From there, societal changes and advocates for equal rights have enabled me to take incremental steps to where I find myself today.

"I look at my daughters, of whom I am immensely proud and I see their potential as leaders for the future - as mothers, as professional people - who knows what their future will hold, thanks to those who have gone before."

Labour list MP for Tauranga Jan Tinetti

Former Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti made the move to Parliament as a Labour MP in last year's election. Photo / File
Former Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti made the move to Parliament as a Labour MP in last year's election. Photo / File

"It's 125 years since women gained the vote in New Zealand and it is an amazing milestone which our country can be very proud of. The women who led this journey were brave and inspirational in their commitment to empowering women.

"In 2018, as a female politician in a Parliament with the biggest ever percentage of women, I am committed to honouring their drive and passion by ensuring that we continue to advance women's issues. My role allows me to be an advocate for our women and girls and I want to ensure that they have a good life that is free from abuse. That there are no barriers to them achieving what they want to achieve. I also want this for our men and boys.

"Being a female in a position of leadership is not about 'anything he can do, she can do better', nor is it a battle of the sexes. It is about ensuring conditions exist to enable more and more women from all demographics to take the leap and to rise into leadership positions. It is about creating an environment where women feel able to bring their own style and talents to whatever leadership role they are in."

Labour list MP for Bay of Plenty Angie Warren-Clark

Labour Party list MP Angie Warren-Clark went from manager of the Tauranga Women's Refuge to Parliament in last year's election. Photo / File
Labour Party list MP Angie Warren-Clark went from manager of the Tauranga Women's Refuge to Parliament in last year's election. Photo / File

"On 19th of September, 125 years since women achieved the vote in Aotearoa, I find myself feeling tremendous humility in being a woman politician in Parliament. Last year I took the opportunity to vote on suffrage day. I remember tearing up as I reflected on the journey of women to gain the vote, and then the thought that we still had so far to go before we truly achieve equality. We still earn less than men. We continue to suffer from gendered violence, one in three women are affected by violence in our lifetime. We are under-represented in science, in professional sports, in boards and in governance - the list goes on.

"However, there is much to celebrate. When I think leadership I think of the role of women in our Government and I'm grateful to be led by Jacinda Ardern, who as Prime Minister brings kindness, strength and intelligence as a significant part of her formidable skill set.

"Today, all women politicians come together for a historic photo. We in Parliament will celebrate suffrage with the nation and I intend to use this day to reflect on how I can continue to advance women's status, locally, nationally and worldwide."

Western Bay of Plenty District Councillor Margaret Murray-Benge

The Western Bay of Plenty District Council's Margaret Murray-Benge is the only female councillor. She is pictured here debating with fellow councillor Mike Lally. Photo / File
The Western Bay of Plenty District Council's Margaret Murray-Benge is the only female councillor. She is pictured here debating with fellow councillor Mike Lally. Photo / File

"My philosophy for life came from my parents and my Sunday school teacher's Christmas card message when I was 10.

" 'I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now, let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.' .

"I became aware that women needed to be courageous and nurturing, and there were fine examples led by Kate Sheppard and many women including my great-aunt Margaret Algie who fought for we women to have the vote.

"Today that strength means not only do I have the right to vote, I am equal to any man or woman I meet or work with because the Treaty of Waitangi gave us equality. I know I am equal to anyone regardless of my background or theirs. This gives me the confidence to stand alone, and represent the community. I love what I do in local government.

"Important world leaders, not the born-to-rule class, but ordinary women like Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meijer paved the way. Today there are many more female leaders here and abroad."

* Bay of Plenty Regional Councillor Māori Constituency representative Matemoana McDonald is overseas and was unable to share her thoughts.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Māori Constituency councillor Matemoana McDonald. Photo / File
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Māori Constituency councillor Matemoana McDonald. Photo / File