Thank you for inviting me to speak today.
Last night I addressed the NZ Conference of BPW, which is holding its annual conference here in Christchurch.
Their Conference theme is Building Leadership from a Firm Foundation. I said there was an irony in that theme, as in Christchurch as our leaders had emerged from shaky ground.
I referred to my necklace, which I am wearing today. It was a gift from my former staff when I left Parliament.
It reads: "The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud". It is a quote from the well-known philosopher, Coco Chanel.
That quote is really about how important I believe it is to speak out for what you believe in. Often that requires courage.
The three smaller beads speak to community, resilience and leadership. These are words I thought I understood, but didn't truly appreciate until after the earthquake.
Community is not the co-location of houses – that's a suburb. It's the relationship between the people in those houses and their relationship as a group with decision-makers – that's community. And of course community is not limited to location or place – it also refers to communities of identity and interest. The social capital within communities is not measured by socio-economic status; it is measured by the strength of those relationships.
Leadership is not a position – it is a mark of character. People often look to the heroic form of leadership after a disaster - it can be comforting to have someone else taking charge, knowing what to do.
But the leadership necessary for the long haul is based on qualities like these – engaging, respectful, inclusive, empathetic and intuitive. I made the point that we automatically think of women when we use these words but we don't always think of women when we think of leaders – the question I posed is whether we have had the heroic form of leadership drummed into us for so long that we don't see the qualities that are essential to bring out the leadership in others.
And resilience is not strength in the face of adversity – that's stoicism; something we Cantabrians have in spades. Resilience isn't just about maintaining critical functions and bouncing back into shape after something occurs. It includes the capacity to recover in the long-term better than ever before and if necessary to adapt to a new environment or new conditions. But it is the capacity to co-create a new future, which actually requires we in decision-making positions to let go of a significant part of our authority – that is something I now recognise as the true hallmark of resilience.
The message I take from my necklace is 'courageous leadership that speaks their truth and empowers communities to co-create the environment in which they live will build resilience in the true sense of the word'.
What a powerful message to carry with me.
Courage, Conviction and Commitment.
These are three words that underpin the history of women who have stood up for women's rights.
Here in Christchurch we honour Kate Sheppard and the suffragists who did not give up when previous attempts to pass the law giving women the right to vote failed. The 1893 petition may have been the largest but it wasn't the first.
They had courage, conviction and commitment.
Not only were we in Christchurch at the forefront of the suffrage campaign itself, we were also the city that produced the first woman member of Parliament in Elizabeth McCombs; the first woman Cabinet Minister in Mabel Howard; and the first Maori woman Cabinet Minister in Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan.
It takes courage, conviction and commitment to lead the way.
The challenges we have had to face in Christchurch since the earthquakes are the same, which is where women's organisations like Zonta are so important. I was sorry to learn last night that Christchurch's BPW club had folded after the earthquakes.
One of the former members, who is determined to rebuild it from scratch, said that it had been hard to keep going when people had so many challenges in their lives.
And that is true. But sometimes the opposite is true. Retaining those links, keeping outwardly focussed, can be the welcome relief from those personal challenges and make us much more able to take those challenges on.
I've been quoting former White House, Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who's now the Mayor of Chicago: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste".
He wasn't the first to say that but I quote it for the next line "...it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
We have all heard of the Shock Doctrine – where these moments of crisis are appropriated to purposes that citizens would never put up with in normal times.
But again my view is that the opposite is equally possible.
These moments of crisis can enable people to see what they are capable of and all of a sudden the status quo will never be good enough again.
Why is this relevant to women?
It's because we have the chance to do things differently here. We have the chance to create our new normal.
I attended the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai in March - 20 years after I attended the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing.
If there is one thing that was reinforced both times, it was the need for women to be at the table when decisions are made.
The challenges we face are greater today than they have ever been – disasters – caused by natural events or man-made - climate change and extreme weather events from storms to droughts, extreme violence, terrorism, income inequality. If women don't sit at the table when the decisions are made about how to combat all of these, they are condemned to continue to be their greatest victims. That was the message in 1995 and it is the message of 2015.
And it is true in every sphere of life.
I don't think the NZX top 100 listed companies are part of a conspiracy to keep women from their boardrooms – I just think that their dominant male composition – a high percentage have no women on them at all – is self-perpetuating. When we look for someone to serve on a committee or a board or a fundraising team, we go to the people we have worked with before and ask them.
I believe the real challenge is to ensure that the decision-makers and the shoulder-tappers appreciate the value in diversity and the strength it can bring to an organisation.
This is not about tokenism or even entitlement; it is about what is in the best interests of the company or our city or our nation going forward.
If we don't have diversity at the Council table, the boardroom tables, the management tables and the Cabinet table, then we don't get the benefit of the perspectives and insights that we all bring to the table. That's how to tackle complex issues – no single perspective can resolve complexity. Even schoolchildren know that today. I had the pleasure of listening to a young girl at TEDx last year, who was described as a future problem-solver. She described a perfect decision-making framework.
First turn your problem into something that can be solved and get as many points of view around the table to contribute to finding solutions; then work through them until you find one that everyone agrees is worth giving a go.
Even 14 year olds do it better than council!
Courage, Conviction and Commitment.
The last thing I want to mention today is the courage it takes in the face of personal tragedy to take on the challenge of that tragedy to change the world or at least a part of it.
I know Zonta says no to violence and that you have been supporting the Sophie Elliott Foundation – a testament to Lesley and Gil Elliott through which they have created a meaningful legacy from the life of their daughter Sophie and the circumstances of her death. I had the honour of meeting them in 2013.
It takes courage, conviction and commitment to recover from something as horrific as Sophie's death, but even more to turn her life into legacy for others to benefit from.
Helping young women become aware of the warning signs and patterns of behaviour of an abusive partner and providing them with the tools to leave the relationship early, will save lives.
When I was first elected to public office 25 years ago this year, there was a report on domestic violence that had been commissioned by the Victims' Taskforce. When I read the report, I was shocked at what I learned about these warning signs that were not only unknown to victims, but ignored by police, judges and experts.
The dedication to the women who had been killed read: "The days of your death were marked by the system's trivialisation of the dangers you faced."
Over the past 25 years I have seen real changes in the way the police and others respond. I don't feel that the dangers are trivialised by the authorities, but we still have an appalling record - here in New Zealand one woman dies approximately every 26 days at the hand of her partner or former partner.
We need to see real change.
I'd like to think that we could spearhead that change in Christchurch and organisations like Zonta can help. We are not just building a new city here, communities are rebuilding as well.
We all know we want safe buildings and safe streets. So as a city we can commit to safe homes as well.
The preamble to CEDAW states:
"... that discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect of human dignity, is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity."
So discrimination against women hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family; it is not just women who are affected.
That is why what you do is vital, and why your Courage, Conviction and Commitment to the empowerment of women and the elimination of violence will benefit us all.