Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.

Last week I paid homage to Māori land and women's right activist the late Tuaiwa Rickard when I recounted my trip to Raglan and the visit to her Poihakena Marae.

On my return from leave my first public event, last Thursday, was attending the farewell of Sue Barrett, the well respected kaiako and head teacher of Otaki Kindergarten.

The incredible turnout of people reflected her 28 years of commitment to the kindy and the innovative programmes she developed. The early childhood teachers, all of them women, also reflect the critical role they play in shaping the minds, character and spirit of the children. These teachers across the country are shaping the quality of the nation's future generations.

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On Friday, I had another glimpse of the unfolding kaleidoscope. I had the honour of opening the Loss & Grief Centre in Paraparumu initiated by Andrew Malcolm and his team at Kapiti Coast Funeral Home.

The service covers a range of loss experienced on the journey of life and the grief that flows from the loss. From the various deaths of loved ones, to miscarriages, break-up of friendships, divorces, and even loss of employment. More than 90 per cent of counsellors supporting this healing initiative to reach out into our communities were women.

On the same day, I was also privileged to publicly announce the appointment of Dame Karen Poutasi as the new chairwoman of the Kapiti Health Advisory Group.

A local resident, this is a woman with a huge demand on her profession skills, yet she has volunteered to help our communities at a critical time. Previous chairwoman, the hardworking Kathy Spiers, who is also the chairwoman of the local community board, is taking time to explore her Māori heritage starting with te reo classes.

Then later in the afternoon, I was at a celebratory event organised by the NZ Educational Institute to recognise the success of their pay equity claim on behalf of all teacher aides. The claim, lodged back in September 2017, provided evidence that this work was mostly done by women.

Celebrating educational pay equity.
Celebrating educational pay equity.

Teacher aides are highly skilled educators, assisting learning and ensuring the wellbeing of children with often complex medical, physical, learning and behavioural needs Historically this had not been recognised with fair value pay and conditions.

As with homecare and healthcare workers, it's undervalued as "women's work".
There are about 200 teacher aides in Kāpiti.

It was great to accompany Green Party MP and Paekakariki resident Jan Logie as well as Mana Labour candidate Barbara Edmonds in supporting this NZEI celebration of a success that sees teacher aide's pay rises go up by between 23-34 per cent across 2020.

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Nationally, the country is witnessing a-never-before competition between two strong women for the prime leadership of the country.

It's not been easy for women in politics. The outgoing National Party MP Sarah Dowie, who, in a Stuff media exclusive on the harassment and bullying she was subjected to, noted, "I think NZ's got a long way to go in particular with respecting women and understanding when the cycle of abuse starts and stops."

Women in politics are subject to focused attacks because of their gender. The use of online media as a weapon has made that worse. Stuff journo Andrea Vance recently made the point that Facebook provides a dream platform for those "who are happy to crank out emotionally charged but factually incorrect messages". She missed out blatant lies.

Others like NZ First MP, Minister Tracy Martin have also mentioned the sidelining of the value of women, ie. "suits look after suits".

A tactic that has been adopted to subvert women is to claim that the abuse delivered in the form of a 'satire' somehow makes it a legitimate platform for sexist and racist comments designed to denigrate women in public life.

These peddlers of intellectual defacement would never dare to publish a satire denigrating the victims of the Holocaust. Inevitably, if we look at who writes such stuff you see a typical post-middle-age man unable to fathom what may have been 'acceptable' before the #metoo movement is no longer acceptable now.

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But the last word on this should belong to Tuaiwa Rickard.

As a Māori feminist she was not only fighting against a sexist colonial culture but also sexist cultural protocols within the Māori system. But she never tolerated Pākehā feminists criticising Māori culture. She saw that as the responsibility of Māori women.

The political lesson from this is that progressive men can only play a supportive role. Women in public office denigrated by the 'satire' of Neanderthals must lead their own battles.