I was recently asked if I knew of a Māori language translation of "feminist". "Mana wāhine" is now a fairly well-known term, which speaks of the unique power, spiritual essence and mana of women.

To me, that term is able to encompass feminist concepts, but I see mana wāhine and feminism as sitting in a Venn diagram —​ there are areas of convergence, but also distinct areas of difference.

As for "feminist", I found the term "kaikōkiri mana wāhine", which literally means "an advocate, champion" of mana wāhine.


A feminist as an advocate for mana wāhine works for me, as long as the concept of mana is deeply understood.

Mana recognises the individual essence of a person, the generations of ancestors it took to produce this one, utterly unique person.

Respect for the mana of all people breeds equality, because if we want to enhance the mana of females and males, we naturally value them both equally.

Mana wāhine is embedded in Māori world view. Our creation narratives speak of the specific power and qualities of female deities such as Papatūānuku, the earth mother, who had a loving relationship with Ranginui, the sky father.

The first human, in Māori beliefs, was a woman: Hineahuone. A woman gave the first breath of life, instigated by the male god, Tāne.

Their daughter Hine-tītama was the dawn maiden, who became Hine-nui-te-pō, the goddess and guardian of the underworld.

The affirmation of the spiritual power and charisma of women is threaded through our narratives, and our tikanga, as is the natural order and balance of men and women. It's when things get out of balance, and the mana of each person is not recognised, that we have problems!

I consider myself a feminist, and I am also a champion of mana wāhine —​ not just for me, but for my daughters, sisters and fellow women.


As I mentioned though, the Venn diagram means I don't believe feminism and mana wāhine are completely the same, or offer the same experiences, or relevance for all women.

I'm used to walking in (at least) two worlds. I'm proudly both Māori and Pākehā.

That duality means my feminist self knows there are aspects of being a Māori woman that are different, and require an energy, and a fight that not all my feminist sisters will experience, or necessarily understand.

As an indigenous minority, a woman of dual heritage, I'm used to not being naturally included in a natty definition of feminism.

When you recognise the mana and difference of other women, we can see where our battles converge, and where we need to work harder to understand each other.

A friend, the artist Rebecca Te Borg, asked me for a statement for her artwork for the suffrage celebrations.

We came up with "Maimoatia te karanga a te mokorā": "Respect the call of the female robin".

The mokorā/female robin has a soft call, it's not famous or renowned like the tūī. But its distinct voice is to be respected. Listen out for the voice that is often not heard.