Maori Men Supporting Maori Women

  • Deborah Morris
Associate Minister of Women's Affairs

Kirikiriroa Marae - Hamilton


Tena koutou i runga i te kaupapa o tenei ra, ara, te kaupapa o te mana wahine
Wahine ma, tena koutou tatou
Tenei ano te mihi atu ki a korua, ko Georgina, ko Alamein, nga Mema Paremata
Otira, tena koutou tena koutou tena koutou katoa.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today. It is an ideal chance to meet you all and more importantly, to hear your views on what's going on. It also gives me an opportunity to let you know about developments in the Women's Affairs portfolio.

As you all know, there are two themes for this years Mana Wahine week. They are "Celebrating The Uniqueness of Maori Women" and "Maori Men Supporting Maori Women". With this in mind, it is fitting to talk to you about two projects in particular. They are 'Maori Women in Decision Making' and another project called 'Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting'.

Last week I launched the Maori Women in Decision Making project, which was developed by the Ministry of Women's Affairs. The primary purpose of this project is to increase the number of Maori women in decision making positions. It will do this by making the people responsible for appointments more aware of, and comfortable with, Maori women as potential board and committee members.

The project will promote ten selected Maori women who are emerging leaders in their fields. The aim is to get the names and skills of these women out there and known. Te Ohu Whakatupu, the Maori policy unit of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, has done a lot of work investigating the possible reasons why the appointment rate for Maori women is comparatively low. And in particular, what is preventing Maori women from being appointed to public boards and committees. Their research showed that lack of visibility was a major barrier.

The people making the appointments, including many people in Maoridom, were often not aware of the achievements of Maori women, and why they are desirable appointees. This is why the Ministry and I have decided to put time, energy and money into profiling a selection of people.

The campaign will be high profile in magazines and newspapers and on the radio. You may have heard National Radio's nightly Mana Tangata programme already featuring some of these women. I have brought up with me copies of an advertisement that ran in the Dominion yesterday talking about the project and highlighting the women involved. I will leave copies here for anyone who would like to have a look. I also have individual profiles of the women being promoted, here for you. So if you're interested in who these amazing women are, help yourself to the information packs which I shall leave behind for you.

All of the women profiled have an extremely good chance of sitting on boards and committees in the future. In so doing, they will make decisions that affect our lives. I intentionally say 'our' lives, because the decisions that these women will make and contribute to, will not only impact on the lives of Maori, but will affect the entire country in one way or another.

I believe it is essential that the boards that make these decisions, are representative of our communities. Diversity gives people confidence that their issues are being heard and addressed.

Perhaps, more importantly, the durability and appropriateness of decisions made by boards with diverse memberships is likely to be greater. Such boards deliver decisions that provide far better outcomes than those which represent only one perspective.

Maori Women have always played a critical role within their own communities, iwi and hapu. A number of these women also have the skills and expertise to participate at very senior levels of decision making in mainstream organisations.

In spite of all the compelling reasons to appoint them, the number of Maori women in such positions is low. In Parliament for instance, there are 36 women MPs, of whom only 6 are Maori.

I am sure you can see that the thrust behind this project is simple - Maori women are flourishing in key roles and it is time they were taken more seriously by those responsible for making the appointments.

Clearly New Zealand can do better, and I can assure you today that the Government is committed to seeing improvements.

In 1995, when the Government attended the Beijing Women's Conference, several resolutions were passed to improve the status of women in participating countries. At this conference the New Zealand Government made a commitment to getting gender balance on government boards and committees by the year 2000. It will be exciting to report on progress in the year 2000.

I am certain that the Maori Women in Decision Making project will contribute to attaining the necessary gender balance. It will also go some way to ensuring broader Maori representation too.

I can't overstate the importance of ensuring balanced representation. Of course, we must have women with the right skills and there are plenty of them. Before moving on to my next topic, I would like to say that when it comes to appointments, the merit principle is fine. If only it applied to men too!!

The second theme for Mana Wahine Week 1998 is 'Maori Men Supporting Maori Women'.

The "Fathers Who Care: Partners in Parenting" project relates to that theme.

The project was launched by the previous Commissioner for Children, Laurie O'Reilly, who passed away earlier this year. Laurie was a strong advocate for children, and this project lit a beacon in the search for good fathers and happy children.

With Laurie's passing on, I am keen to ensure that his message is amplified. Of course this is no easy issue. Even at the recent Fathering Our Future Forum, the speakers had quite different perspectives. I guess that's because parenting is so personal. Yet the statistics are so public.

In 1991 just over one-fifth of New Zealand families looking after a child of one year old were sole parent families and about a quarter of all pre-schoolers lived in sole parent families. In Maori families this figure was even higher. Eighty-two percent of sole parent families are headed by women.

I think this week is a good time to reflect on the sole parent families in Maori communities and to ask whether the fathers are doing enough to contribute to the well being of their families.

'Fathers Who Care' is not about saying partners should stay together no matter what. It is about cherishing the influence, communication and special skills that fathers are able to teach.

It's about carefully considering the role a father plays in a child's life and acknowledging its importance. It also means assessing how such a role can be maintained even if the parents' relationship breaks down.

Frequently there is debate about specific social problems. Divorce, poverty, youth suicide, crime, domestic violence. We all know there is never a single cause. But it is time to ask some questions about family and the trend of fatherlessness. At the very least let's think about the importance of solid male role models.

Just as Mana Wahine Week is about celebrating and acknowledging the unique contributions and status of Maori women, so too do fathers have a role and contribution to make that is irreplaceable.

There does seem to be one point of agreement in the debate raging over fatherhood, it's that absent fathers can cause incredible damage. And I am not only talking here about fathers who are actually physically missing from home. I am also talking about fathers who are missing from their children's lives because of job ambition, or general remoteness - the "behind the newspaper" syndrome.

It is my hope that we can lower the number of single parent families in this country. Even if we can't I would really like to see fathers confidently taking an active role in parenting. We need fathers - but we need caring, nurturing and supportive fathers.

It was great to read in an email I received this week, that in support of Mana Wahine Week, several men had registered their intention to take care of all the child care needs for the week. Those Dads deserve heaps of encouragement 'cos I'm sure they'll be exhausted at the end of the week. It is good to see the support being stated publicly on a day other than Mother's Day!

Parenting is no easy task - but sharing the responsibility sure takes a load off.

To see more Maori women in decision making and to secure strong whanau requires Maori men to support Maori women. And whether the choice is to be a leader and decision maker, or a mum, or both, Maori women are unique. Celebrating the choices and contribution of Maori women is what this week is all about.

It is a pleasure to be here today, and I am happy to answer a few questions from the floor if anyone has any.