I received an email from the library last week reminding me I had promised to loan them my Suffrage Medal for a display they were having to celebrate the 125 years of woman's suffrage in New Zealand. This made me reflect that 25 years have passed since the suffrage centenary.

I had been given the medal for a refurbishment of the Hastings women's rest rooms which the men around the council table had mooted to pull down. It was also part of recognition for setting up a register in Hawke's Bay of suitable women to be put forward for governance appointments and national boards.

I wondered what changes had been made regarding the lives of women since then? I wondered how different it is for woman now compared to how life was for me 25 years ago.


Being one of only two women on the first Hastings District Council in 1989, with 13 men around the table, was not easy. The men would often find it necessary to talk among themselves when it was our turn to comment in the debate. The old boy network was alive and well and we had to work so much harder in the community to "earn" our recognition as worthy members of the council.

To be fair, this attitude was more than likely because we were both women who had no recognised credentials in the local business world. Prior to 1989 a young woman on her own with three children, as I was, was an unusual council candidate. I had trained as a school dental nurse, worked for many years as a florist retailer, but this did not rate as being part of the higher echelons of the Hastings business community.

I was subjected to comments when out socially, such as, "She only got onto council because of what she looks like", and in the media, anonymously, "She is dilly like Lady Di" (This, of course, was before Lady Di was killed in a car accident.) However, I consider I have a lot to thank that environment for. It motivated me to prove to myself I was worthy of my position.

I worked hard to be the best me I could be, focusing on being a voice for women on the council and on environment issues. Back then recycling was an ugly word, except in my vocabulary.

To become the best I could be, I looked at what my life might look like after the council and took a university course, working fulltime, studying by correspondence at night and in the weekends. Five years later I had a master's degree with honours in business. Dispute resolution specifically.

I was subsequently voted off the council, having topped the polls at the four previous elections. But the strange thing was, it did not matter any more as I had proved to myself I "could". I could be as good if not better than the people who had objected to my presence. I had given myself the confidence to face any challenge.

Have things changed over the past 25 years? I am encouraged by the message girls receive at school now, that they are welcome into any chosen career including trades. This was certainly not the case in my day. The political world is much more open and available to women, which is obvious with a new mother as our current Prime Minister.

My message to women 25 years on is that you can achieve what you may not believe possible. I do not believe we have got to the point yet where most women have the confidence to believe this, but I do believe if they set their goals high they will be surprised at what they can achieve.

Life is not a practice run. It is like a business, the most successful have a good business plan that can weather the ups and downs in the changing environment. Sometimes things may not go as expected but with the path in sight you can move forward.

I say to women, have a go. If you are entering a path where you are the minority, believe in yourself. Don't be put off or hurt by people who consider that you should not be there.

There is only one person you must always be true to and need to let be with you in times of joy, success, sadness and failure, and that is the person who looks back at you in the mirror.

Smile at her, believe in her and you will be amazed at how that confidence can move mountains.

• Megan Williams has her own business, Alternative Dispute Resolutions, based in Hastings.