International Women's Day on March 8 was marked in Hamilton with a panel event exploring the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in local government.

Event organiser Kelli Pike, founder of Politics in the Tron, a community based volunteer network, said the aim was to improve participation in local politics which involves focussing on who currently isn't represented or participating in the democratic process.

"Going into the event I was proud to bring Free FM89.0, Go Eco and the YWCA of Hamilton together as three organisations interested in empowering our communities. We've been overwhelmed by the positive energy and momentum for change to happen," Ms Pike says.
"It was a conversation that was long overdue."

She said the event had support from DV Bryant Trust which enabled them to remove the cost of attending.

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The University of Waikato's Professor Priya Kurian opened the discussion to a packed gallery at The Meteor, delivering positive news of the improving diversity of women in politics in America before the bad news at a local level where just 25 per cent of Hamilton elected representatives are female.

One of the panellists — Angela O'Leary, an incumbent Hamilton West councillor — summarised barriers to women putting themselves forward as a candidate.

"On this trajectory it will take 117 years to reach equality. None of us have that long," she said.

She pointed out that when women do stand they are more likely to be elected. But it isn't just enough to 'throw a woman in the council' and leave them there.

Former Green Party MP, activist and panellist Catherine Delahunty agreed, emphasising the problems of the patriarchal systems which oppress minorities and discourages inclusion. It was a point that frew lots of cheers from the audience.

While much of the night focused on increasing gender balance, there was also discussion about how participation and representation can be improved without tokenism and without pigeon holing ethnic women being only able to represent their own communities.

A question from audience member Anjum Rahman was: "Why can't ethnic women
represent everyone when it is accepted that white men represent everyone?" The audience responded with much cheering and nods of agreement.

The audience heard that diversity in representation mattered because it added a legitimacy to democracy and built trust; also that new leadership was needed as we face new challenges.

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Members of the audience were asked for their views on what is needed to mobilise women and the community to both put themselves forward for governance roles and support others.

Jamie Toko, a social activist on the panel, spoke about organisations like the Māori Women's Welfare League being available to support women who want to put themselves forward for governance roles.

Former Labour Party MP and now chief executive of Community Law Centres o Aotearoa [CLCA], Sue Moroney, who was in the audience, said there used to be a locally active group called the Women's Electoral Lobby and suggested it may be time to bring it back.

Ms Pike said the organisers were proud to have been able to start the conversation at The Voices of Women and would be working towards what to do from here in the next few weeks.

She suggested following Politics in the Tron on Facebook for updates.