It was the year of #metoo, pay equity, and our Prime Minister becoming a mum. It was the year a female rugby player - at last - gained the sport's top honour. It was the 125th anniversary of suffrage, a year of celebration. But also a reminder that change does not come without hard work and frustration.

All year, we have watched as New Zealand women have fought for their rights. And fought. And fought.

From campaigning against sexual harassment in the media, to arguing for equal pay through the courts, to addressing our shameful domestic violence record at the United Nations, women stood up and were counted. They raised their voices when others didn't want to hear. They were empowered in the face of adversity. They persisted despite knowing meaningful change would likely be a long time yet.

That persistence has led us to name women - all women - as our 2018 New Zealanders of the Year.

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It is an unusual move - more radical than last year's team choice of the Black Ferns. Until then, the winner had always been a single person. In 2016 it was melanoma campaigner Leisa Renwick, and before that Lecretia Seales, who spent her dying days fighting for legalised euthanasia. Nominees this year included terminally ill 19-year-old Eva McGauley, an advocate for sexual violence victims, Te Reo revivalist Quinton Hita and academic Professor Anne Marie Brady. Any of them would have been worthy of the prize.

However, we wanted to acknowledge a year which - though challenging - has been described by many as a beginning.

Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy told us she thought the year was a tipping point, when women decided they'd simply had enough. Jackie Clark, who works with survivors of domestic violence, said it felt like a renaissance of the feminism of the 1970s. The only female chief executive in the NZX50, Chorus head Kate McKenzie, said she thought the year created momentum - and with it an opportunity to keep that momentum going.

Jacinda Ardern, who with the arrival of her daughter Neve in June made history this year as only the second elected leader in the world to give birth in office, said when reflecting on the year she also felt that sense of momentum - around issues that affected women but also wider issues of fairness and equality.

"I'm seeing young women increasingly coming together over these issues... a real wave of empowered young women."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made history in 2018. Photo / File
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made history in 2018. Photo / File

Ardern's decision to be a working mum drew worldwide attention to a struggle faced by countless women before her. The backlash began even before the baby was born. She faced criticism saying she shouldn't take time off at all, and that she should take longer.

In an interview with the New Yorker in October, Ardern admitted to feeling the burden as she strove to normalise working motherhood. "I try to make sure that I don't create too many excuses to be criticised," she said. Throughout she managed to regained her humanity, laughing with the press about nappy changes, and the necessities of wearing two pairs of Spanx.

At the same time, working women were fighting on another front. Female-dominated professions such as carers and support workers lodged pay equity claims demanding their skills, long undervalued, be fairly recognised. Nurses, midwives and teachers went on strike, asking for better pay and conditions. The gender pay gap again became headline news - with particular attention paid to the disparity between not just men and women, but pakeha, maori and pasifika women too.

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The most dominant issue of the year, however, was #MeToo. Conversations once whispered only among women suddenly became public. The Russell McVeagh scandal, where senior firm members were accused of serious sexual assault, prompted an outpouring of stories which grew and grew. While men were shocked at the scale of the abuse, women were not. Instead, they grew frustrated, as outrage failed to bring almost any real change.

Jan Logie - the Green Party politician with responsibility for violence against women - was an unsung hero, introducing changes to the domestic violence Act and expanding responsibility for sexual violence across government. And yet, it will not be enough. Most experts have said true equality will only come with huge legal and social change. Right now much of society still insists sexual abuse is not a cultural problem, but an individual one. And although victims have been prepared to spill their secrets, we are
yet to see the abusers take any ownership of their wrongdoing at all.

Half of public sector chief executives are now women. Pictured is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Half of public sector chief executives are now women. Pictured is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Fortunately, amid the gloom, the Suffrage 125 anniversary was a reminder that change never comes easily. It also provided the opportunity to celebrate how far we've come.

New Zealand has now had three women Prime Ministers and now, as in 2001, the three top jobs in the land were all held by women – Ardern, Chief Justice Sian Elias (to be replaced by Helen Winkelmann next year) and Reddy.

Rebecca Kitteridge is director of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, and Federated Farmers has its first woman president in Katie Milne. Half of public sector chief executives are now women.

Our first female science advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, was appointed. Dr Leonie Pihama, the Maori academic, said though gains for Maori women had been even more scarce than for women in general this year, they were already forming a warm relationship Gerrard.

Our women's rugby team were made professional. And this month, Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge became the first female to win player of the year - and went back to work the next day.

Black Ferns player Kendra Cocksedge has made history by becoming the first woman to receive the top honour at the annual national rugby awards
New Zealand Rugby Women's Player of the Year winner Black Ferns Kendra Cocksedge. Photo / Photosport
New Zealand Rugby Women's Player of the Year winner Black Ferns Kendra Cocksedge. Photo / Photosport

New Zealand is still a good place to be a woman, even if all our battles are not yet won. But what women have achieved this year marks 2018 as the beginning of an overhaul which will have a profound impact on future generations. It is a challenge to the future,
rather than an answer to the past.