2 May, 2006
Launch of Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust
Distinguished guests, I bring apologies from the Rt Hon Helen Clark who asked me to attend today, as she wanted to be represented by a Minister, given the significance of the occasion.
As Minister of Women's Affairs it is my pleasure to stand in for the Prime Minister at what is truly a milestone of achievement for University of Auckland women graduates at the official launch of the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust.
I say official launch, because as you know there is a history to this inspired initially by an appeal of the International Federation of University Women just over 85 years ago that set Auckland University women on a pathway of fundraising so that they could improve the quality of life and status of women in society.
From 25 pounds raised through providing lectures in branch members' homes to a multi-million dollar trust that distributes around a quarter of a million dollars annually in awards to female students. It is a remarkable story indeed.
The remarkable women who have built up the Trust over the decades have contributed immeasurably to the advancement of women, not only through these awards but through the inspiration they provide as role models to each generation.
It is fitting that the Trust's name honours the memory of the first woman in the British Empire to hold a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and that she was a New Zealand woman.
I think of her growing up in Auckland where there was no secondary schooling available for girls and the fact that she had to get the permission of the headmaster of Auckland Grammar to study with the top class of boys.
As Minister of Women's Affairs I have had cause to reflect on how far we have come as women but also how far we have to go. The Ministry of Women's Affairs will have its 20th anniversary this Saturday which gives me cause to look back at what we have achieved, but to acknowledge that we still have more to do.
I know that New Zealand has this world-leading reputation on women's participation built into its national identity – because of the 1893 decision to grant universal suffrage, which really was universal in that it extended the right to vote to Maori and non-land owners. We were the first country where women were granted the right to vote – and we have Kate Edger – the first woman in the British Empire to hold a BA.
And we have Ethel Benjamin – from my own discipline of law – the first woman in the British Empire to qualify to practise as a barrister and solicitor.
And we have so many inspirational women in leadership positions – the Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Governor-General, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chief executive of our largest listed company.
But where are the women coming through? What happens when we peel back the top layer? What happens when we open the boardroom door?
Judy McGregor will obviously talk about the Census of Women's Participation from a university perspective, but I just want to mention the Commerce angle.
Just 7 per cent of the directors of our top 100 companies are women. Even Australia does better at just over 8 per cent. The UK has over 10 per cent, America over 13 per cent and Norway leads the way at 22 per cent.
For those who say the women are not there – look around this gathering.
And think for a minute how a 25 pound fundraising venture became a multi-million dollar trust.
Think academic gowns. From a few volunteers to a successful commercial venture that today represents the essence of the ceremonial face of academic achievement. In modern business terms these entrepreneurial women identified their strengths, carved out a niche market, added enormous value and then distributed the profits to the next generation coming through.
This is a virtuous circle, which honours the memory of those women in the past by enhancing the opportunities for the women of the present who will in turn promote opportunities for women in the future.
The last time I met with Dame Dorothy Winstone was when the Dames gathered to save the Auckland Women's Suffrage Centennial Memorial Steps – jokingly referred to as the Dam-nations. Their collective status saw a council back down faster than anyone could say "over my dead body".
Honouring the Trust today without honouring the extraordinary commitment of Dame Dorothy would be impossible. I have been asked to present this bouquet to you to thank you for what you have done to make the Trust the success it is today and to acknowledge your personal commitment to ongoing education and opportunities for women throughout their lives. You are the embodiment of the spirit of the Trust and you have every right to feel proud of what has been achieved. We honour you and we thank you.