Te Hua O Te Whanau Conference

  • Georgina te Heuheu
Women's Affairs

This week is "Mana wahine week" and just this past Wednesday I was privileged enough to support my colleague Hon Tau Henare in launching the statistical profile prepared on Maori Women - Maori Women in focus - Titiro hangai, ka marama

At that launch I took the opportunity to point out a very important issue to Maori people, and it is a point that I stress whenever I can lest we forget its importance.

For Maori Women to progress we need our Maori Men. Our traditional society was a balanced one where men and women played different, but equally important roles. These roles were no less important were they carried out by men, or by women.

The important issue was the balance they created. If there is an issue that needs attention today it is the imbalance in our families, in our communities.

We need to sort these issues out so that we can all move forward together, men need women just as women need men.

I was fortunate enough last week to spend some time with the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala.

She was an inspiring woman who provided some useful insight to the differences and similarities in New Zealand and the United States.

She spoke last week on the six important lessons that she and others have learnt in the United States from their experience of putting women's health on the national agenda.

I would like to refer to these today, they are not as different to our circumstances as some might think:

the first lesson :

We must help women see their whole selves. It is important that women recognise that every aspect of their lives is an aspect of their health.

The US approach to Women's health is to look at it as though it were a seamless change of seasons across a lifetime - with no season more important than another. Prevention is a centrepiece of any strategy.

Prevention and lifestyle changes provide the greatest room for improvements in the Health of Maori families.

Women will lead those changes because we are responsible for so much of the care of our families and communities.

Lesson two:

Build an army from the ground up. Women's health issues did not always have the profile it presently does, so the need to mobilise not only women but the communities they come from to recognise the relevance of these issues is essential.

Have we done enough in our own communities to raise the levels of awareness and participation that we could?

Last year during the campaign on Breast cancer awareness, I took a box of those pink ribbons into Parliament and pinned them on all my Male colleagues.

Some of them thought it was a dag, and had smart comments to make, until I reminded them that it was an issue that can affect us all.

Breast cancer as an example is a much more sobering issue when we think about its broad impacts.

Too many of our men think women's health is women's business. Too many people continue to tell them that women's health is women's business alone.

Lesson three:

Pick the right battles. In politics this is an important lesson. You don't use all your resources and friends on a trivial issue, and have nothing left for the real fights.

We are making real progress in many areas of Maori health but lets not get distracted from the issue of improving Maori health status by other matters which might use our efforts and energies unnecessarily.

A well quoted phrase in Black American civil rights movements is "Keep your eyes on the prize." The prize is the improved health of Maori people, it is not necessarily the increased number of Maori health providers.

Lesson four:

There's a Women's health aspect to almost every issue. The health of families, communities and nations all depend on the health of women.

The poignant pictures we have all seen from Kosovo in the past weeks, the most disturbing are of women and children. Our hearts are most torn by their images.

The use of resources in one area, affects the use of resources in another.

The treatment of preventable disease, reduces the number of grommet operations.

Treatment for the effects of tobacco reduce our ability to treat other less predictable disease.

The health of women is affect by the health of their families. The health of families is affect by the health of their communities. The health of communities is affect by the health of nations.

Lesson five:

Weave your way around the opposition. Politicians do this all the time and some are better than others.

Women and men need to teach young men to share in the responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies, young men need to be raised so that they recognise their responsibilities in relationships and in raising their own children.

Men are not the opposition on issues like these, although often they are portrayed as such. When we all recognise the inter-relatedness of our health we are better able to recognise the responsibilities we hold.

Lesson six:

We must support everyday heroines. Do we really value each other enough. Do we recognise our mothers and grandmothers as everyday heroines?

We should be proud of our sisters who raise their children and not restrict our admiration to national figures or sportsmen.

The future of our country depends on how we raise our families.

It is true that the government determines how much money is directed at education or health, but ultimately the rearing of children is the responsibility of mothers and fathers.

We do not have government inspectors sitting at our dinner tables supervising our meals for nutrition, neither do we have them supervising our tobacco or alcohol consumption.

These things are left to us, so we are the ones most capable of changing these things and the results they produce.

Conclusions

People ask me what I stand for now that I am a politician. Hardly anyone cared before so its something a person has to think about.

People ask me how I manage the demands of a broad group of ministerial portfolios, how do I focus on the different issues, how do I ground my decisions.

My answer to this is that "I believe in families, and I stand for families."

I think this theme is one that I am sure most of you all use, knowingly or unknowingly.

I base all my work on the importance of families and communities. Families are important to me.

The priority issue in each of my four portfolios and any other work I do, is to improve the ability of families to provide for themselves.

As the Minister for Courts I am interested in Families and the protection of their security and safety.

I am also interested in the rehabilitation of young members of families so they can contribute constructively to our society, and their parents can be proud of them.

I am anxious that our legal and justice system functions effectively and to the benefit of all.

Whether that be the rehabilitation of young people going wrong, or the proper treatment of people who find themselves being the victims of crime or ill-doing.

As the Minister of Women's Affairs I am interested in families and the ability of Women to provide for themselves and their children. I am particularly concerned for Women and families at risk.

I am concerned, as I said earlier, that we don't cloud our thinking in this area by trying to do things without our men, if we don't bring our men forward with us our progress will be so much slower. In our communities, in our families there is a need for a sensible balance.

All of you know what I am talking about, because without that sort of balance you would not be as successful today as you obviously are.

The balance in families allows us to better understand the need for balance in the communities we come from and live in.

As the Associate Minister of Health I am concerned for families. Concerned that they are raised as well as our country can provide, raised so they are healthy members of society and can take their rightful place within it.

Raised so they aren't burdened with an unfair disadvantage, and raised in an environment which encourages their development.

Healthy young people are a nations asset, they are strong and grow up to be worthwhile and contributing members in our communities. They participate, they contribute and they lead.

Many of the health issues that effect us are lifestyle issues. The food we choose to eat, or choose to feed our children has implications for our health. Low protein fatty diets invariably catch up with us.

The cigarettes some of us choose to smoke are a burden, not only on our own bodies but the health consequences are too often a burden on our families and communities as well.

I want to encourage healthy living, I want to inform people of the consequences of healthy living and of unhealthy practices so they can make informed decisions on the consequences of their choices.

As the Associate Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations I am concerned for families, I am concerned that Treaty claims are resolved and that the benefits of those settlements are used on the important issues in peoples lives, so that our people can get on with their lives unencumbered by a need to do something about the past, to instead focus on the future.

Treaty claim resolution can have a positive impact on a community or it can have a negative one. I'm for the positive impact.

So, I stand for families and although it may bore some people, I am proud of it and I will tell any one who wants to listen. Maybe even those who don't.

I commend you for the work you do, because health and healthier lives must start in our families and how we raise our children.

Let's take responsibilitiy, let's take the lead - because these issues are too important to do any less.