Women's Suffrage Day 2017 remarks

These are the comments I made today, more or less, at Tāmaki Labour's Women's Suffrage Tea.
Kia ora and welcome everyone to our Women’s Suffrage Tea.

I am Julia Schiller, chair of the Tāmaki Labour Electorate Committee, your hosts for this event.

As we know too well, Kiwi girls and women have a way to go to achieve true equality and the liberation that promises for everyone—male, female, other. But today is our day to celebrate how truly far we have already come.

Recently I went to see My Year With Helen and I was struck by the scene in which she tells a women’s group in Botswana that they must put themselves forward and not wait to be asked to take leadership roles. Although the advice is still good for all of us, wasn’t it a huge turning point for Kiwi women when Andrew Little, realizing his shortcomings could cost Labour this election, asked Jacinda Ardern to take his place? This victory was made sweeter within 24 hours when we saw her point a finger firmly at sexism and tell it unequivocally that it was unacceptable. Such catharsis after nine long years of ponytail-pulling, Roast Buster-excusing, Eleanor Catton-slamming old boy nonsense, am I right?

Feminists in decades past, having endured physical, emotional, and verbal assaults to secure rights too many take for granted today, these feminists were desperate to see women, any women, in leadership roles. But there are problems with that sort of blind allegiance to gender. Some of them are named Margaret Thatcher, Condoleeza Rice, Sarah Palin, Pauline Hanson, and closer to home, Ruth Richardson, Jenny Shipley, Paula Bennett, and Judith Collins.

Today what we need and all we need are good women--articulate, intelligent but most importantly, caring and compassionate. I am proud to say Labour have many good women in Parliament and standing for electorate and list positions this year. We’re honoured to be joined by a few of these wonderful wahine today and you’ll meet them in a minute.

But we must remember, no matter our background, our status, our wealth--all women exert a tremendous amount of personal power and influence over our children, our whanau, our neighbours, and our communities if we choose to use it. I do believe the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

Politics is about taking care of people. Everyone—but especially women--knows something about that.

It’s time to forget the old advice that talking about politics is impolite or unseemly or unfeminine. It’s time to set aside the cynicism that says leave them to it, our lives won’t change no matter who is in office.

Let’s get political, not just on Suffrage Day, not just on Election Day, but every day. Identify your values and make sure your politics are aligned with those values, challenge yourself by hearing different views, look for common ground with everyone you encounter.

Get involved by joining the Labour Party—the forms are over there. Come to our meetings, help guide policy and pick future good candidates to stand for us, people who can articulate Labour’s vision of a fairer New Zealand where everyone can thrive, people who when elected can make it happen and make a difference.

Women are going to decide this election but women must be just as involved in healing the hurts of the past 33 years and guiding our beloved Aotearoa into the brighter future we all know is possible after September 23rd.


An American expat living in Auckland since 2000, Julia Schiller is a graduate of Washington University in St Louis, a former ESOL teacher, a Labour Party volunteer, and a self-employed entrepreneur.