International Women’s Day is a global celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. It’s celebrated annually on March 8th and this year we’ve asked one of our female staff members, Hannah, to share one of her prominent role models.
Growing up in New Zealand, I enjoyed the privilege of having a strong woman in power to look up to. From the year after I was born, Helen Clark was our country’s Prime Minister until 1997 when another woman, Dame Jenny Shipley, succeeded her for two years. Then in 1999, Helen Clark was once again in power. As a child and young adult, seeing a woman at the forefront of my country’s politics was my norm.
With Jenny Shipley as leader of the National Party, and Helen Clark as leader of the Labour Party, I clearly saw how women could make it to the top, and thrive.
Most of my memories surrounding politics in my earlier years are of Helen, her policies were focused on social welfare and international affairs. So, I remember her on TV discussing peace in the Pacific, increases to the minimum wage and the new secondary school education system, NCEA, which obviously directly impacted my formative years in school. The law I remember being discussed most widely in public discourse was the ‘Anti-smacking law’, which made using force to discipline your child a criminal offence in New Zealand.
After leaving office in 2008, she went on to become the first female head of the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP). This position elevated her in my mind even further, as at the time I had ideas about working in human rights. Notably, she was the first woman to lead the UNDP.
Helen Clark was a strong role model for girls growing up in New Zealand in the 90s and 00s. She taught us that women can rise to the most powerful position in the country and make real change.
While you may never have heard of Helen Clark before, I think it’s more likely that our current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern has made her way into your awareness. She gained international prominence for her strong, compassionate response to the Christchurch Mosque shootings in 2019. The way she handled that atrocity gave New Zealanders (and others) all over the world, hope and comfort in a dark time.
These three women are doing so much good with their lives, and I’m grateful for their influence in my life and in the politics of my home. Who has been a strong female role model in your life? Feel free to share in the comments, and Happy #InternationalWomensDay 2020!