I am sorry I could not be here for the first part of your evening as I was involved in supporting what was a partnership between the Christchurch Nepalese community, the Student Volunteer Army and we as a city to hold a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the people of Nepal and surrounding areas affected by the earthquake.
In Christchurch we understand what it is like to wake up to a large earthquake and also to experience an even stronger shake less than 6 months later, when many had already expected that the worst was over. We know the pain of losing loved ones and friends, our homes and communities.
Given that we are still facing challenges today, we know their journey has only just begun and they have a long way to go.
I am pleased you have asked me to speak tonight about empowering women, gender equity and your conference theme – building leadership from a firm foundation.
I know the city's Chief Executive, Dr Karleen Edwards, has already spoken to you about our history as a city and the role models it has already produced, as well as the opportunities that our disaster has actually offered women – especially those in non-traditional roles.
But when I thought of the theme 'building leadership from a firm foundation', I felt a sense of irony in that it was the shaky ground that saw leaders emerge from seemingly nowhere – only they didn't emerge from nowhere – they emerged from their communities and they became the voice of the people.
The disruption caused by the quakes actually empowered certain people to step up in a way they may not have envisaged themselves doing.
The Canterbury earthquakes have taught me new words – like liquefaction and lateral spread – but they have enabled me to understand words I thought I understood well, but didn't, like community, resilience and leadership.
My staff gave me a necklace with these words on them, because they know how powerful their true meaning has become to me.
Community is not the co-location of houses; that's a suburb. It is the relationship between people in those houses and their connection with decision-makers, be they central or local government.
The extent of social capital within communities is not measured by socio-economic status; it is measured by those relationships.
Resilience is not about being strong in the face of adversity – that's stoicism. It's the capacity to prepare and plan for an adverse event, and to absorb, to respond, to recover, to adapt and where necessary to co-create a new kind of normal. Resilient communities have plenty of pre-existing social capital.
When we have cannot possibly predict with accuracy what we will have to respond to at any time in the future – the effects of climate change, a disaster triggered by a natural event or a crisis triggered by our own doing - communities need to be prepared to respond themselves. The government cannot be everywhere and cannot do everything. If communities have been disempowered to the extent that they are unable to fend for themselves then recovery will be much slower and much more challenging.
And then we come to leadership. Leadership is not a position – it is a characteristic based on certain qualities. Sometimes people who are described as leaders do not have these qualities and are not true leaders. And sometimes those qualities are evident in people who do not hold leadership positions, but are true leaders in every sense of the word.
I remember going to a forum where young people were asked to describe leadership and the usual words were offered: strong, decisive, committed, authoritative, responsible. Any textbook would associate those words with what it takes to be a leader. But this is what is described as a heroic model of leadership – someone who comes in and takes charge – such leaders issue orders and are obeyed.
In the emergency response period following a disaster, people often look for this form of leadership – command and control can be comforting; someone else taking charge, knowing what to do.
But there is another way to define leadership and this definition ties in with my experience once the crisis is over and we begin the process of recovery.
The kind of leader that emerges in this environment is one that is respectful, engaging, empathetic, inclusive and intuitive.
Why do we think of women when we hear those words and yet we don't necessarily think of women when we look for a leader?
Have we had the image of the heroic leader drummed into us to the extent that we don't see that these are the qualities that build trust?
And that's what marks a true leader – trust. The distinction between the heroic leader and the true leader is not about taking charge; it is about engaging others in a way that enables them to lead in their own right.
We saw that here in Christchurch time and time again.
Helen Clark, who is now the head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) spoke about this at the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, which I was honoured to attend.
In saying that "promoting women's equal participation and leadership in disaster risk reduction [was] essential", she stated:
"From UNDP's work around the world, we have learned that it is critical that gender issues are not considered as "side-concerns" or "add-ons", but as an integral part of successful policy measures. This is as true when we are promoting disaster risk reduction, as it is in tackling climate change, strengthening food security, and reducing poverty.
This year we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was intended to provide a roadmap to achieving gender equality and empowering women. It was adopted at the Fourth World Conference for Women in 1995, which I also had the privilege of attending as a very young Member of Parliament.
I remember Hillary Clinton stating that women's rights were human rights and how that phrase encapsulated the mood of the conference.
But today there is so much more still to realise if we want to be able to say we have achieved the goal we set back then. The challenges we face have become even greater, disasters – man-made and otherwise - climate change, income inequality, armed conflict and terrorism. Unless women are up front and central to the solutions, they will continue to be their greatest victims.
My necklace my former staff gave me says this too:
"The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud". – Coco Chanel.
She may not be the world's most famous philosopher but the words are true.
Never be afraid to speak your mind.
I remember someone sending me JK Rowling's speech on the occasion of Harvard University's 357th Commencement.
She talked about failure – not to glamorise the experience of finding herself at the end of a broken marriage as a solo parent with a classics degree and not much else. In fact there was nothing glamorous about her experience of poverty and despair. But she said this:
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.
I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learnt no other way.
I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.
Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.
This quote has come to mean so much more to me over the past few years. The knowledge I have gained is a true gift. I, like so many others here in Christchurch, have discovered what truly matters. I too have stripped away the inessential. In a way I have been set free.
I left my Parliamentary role, because I felt I was needed here. And I never wanted to have to confront the question, what if...what if I had had stood.
And that's what I hope each one of you takes from this weekend.
Your firm foundation for building leadership may in fact be shaky ground; it may even be failure. But it will never involve you saying 'what if...'
Because whether you succeed in your endeavour or not, you will have shown that you too understand what truly matters and that you are prepared to stand up and be counted.
And that's what leadership is.