News Item

Celebrating Pacific women

Media 21 Sep 2018

This year marks the 125th Anniversary of the Suffrage movement in New Zealand. Our New Zealand Pacific Members of Parliament hosted a breakfast to celebrate the movement and acknowledge Pacific women recipients of the 2018 New Year's and Queen's Birthday awards. Our very own Marketing and Communications Manager, Suzanne Suisuiki, performed the Samoan taualuga on behalf of PCF. Thank you Hon Minister AUPITO SUA WILLIAM SIO for acknowledging the work PCF delivers throughout the Pacific region. The minister’s address follows:

“In preparation for this occasion, I was asked the question - how do we acknowledge and recognise appropriately Pacific women in the celebration of the 125th year of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand?

How do we recognise the Pacific ancestry of Pacific women who represent our community and are a powerful symbol of beauty, grace, intelligence, courage, bravery and resilience?

The modern Pacific woman of Aotearoa-New Zealand stands on the shoulders of a long line of women leaders from throughout the Pacific;

In Hawaii, Queen Ku-kani-loko was the first ruler of Oahu in 1350, and was succeeded by her daughter Queen Kala-i-manuia, and many other women rulers followed.

French Polynesia has had a strong history of women with political power and influence. The island of Huaine had the biggest influence. Six out of 10 of its monarchs were women. The most well-known monarch in French Polynesia was Queen Pomare of the Pomare family of Tahiti, who ruled over half a century from 1827-1877. These former kingdoms lost authority and power shortly after the French takeover during the latter part of 1880s.

The Cook Islands have also had, and continue to have, a strong presence of female leaders. On the island of Rarotonga, four of its six paramount Ariki are women. In recent times, the Pa Ariki title has been dominated by women, with five out of the last six holders.

In Fiji, the Roko Tui Dreketi chiefly title, traditionally ranked in the top three of all of Fiji, is held by a woman, Roko Tui Dreketi Teimumu Tuisawau-Kepa, a former politician. Fijian women today have succeeded to becoming district and village chiefs.

In Tonga, the last woman to have held the title of Tu’i Kano-ku-polu, the highest traditionally ranked title in all of Tonga, was Queen Salote, but she was not the first. The first was the 12th Tu’i Kano-ku-polu Tupou' Mohe-'ofo during the late eighteenth century.

In Samoa, there are many stories of powerful women who influenced Samoan history. The story of Sina from Sava’ii who beat chief Leleisi’uao and the fraternity of men in a competition to thatch a fale with rocks is remembered in the saying, E au le inailau a tama'ita'i, ae le au le inailau a ali'i. The women were first to complete the task and men could not.

The woman warrior Nafanua is well known for winning the wars against the main chiefly families of Samoa and taking those paramount chiefly titles and bestowing it upon a young Queen Salamasina, Samoa’s first Tafa’ifa, or supreme ruler of Samoa. After ruling for 40 years, the paramount titles vested in Queen Salamasina were passed onto her successors Fofoaivaoese, Taufau and Sina – all women.

Samoa was the first to amend their Constitution in 2013 to allow for a 10% quota for women representatives in their Parliament. This amendment was triggered in their 2016 general election and five women make up their 50-member parliament.

In New Zealand’s case, the ambition for Pacific representation for Pacific people arose during the painful experiences of the Dawn Raid period in the 1970s and then was fuelled during the Rogernomics era.

For the next 30 years the women leaders of Pacifica Inc., the Hotel Hospital Restaurant Workers Union (later the Service & Food Workers Union), and the Pacific Sector of the Labour Party combined their political efforts.

This led to Eleitino Paddy Walker becoming the first Pacific Auckland City Councillor in 1973 and 1976 and Jasmine Underhill the first Pacific woman to become a councillor and deputy mayor for Porirua City Council from 1986 to 2004. This set the scene for other Pacific men and women to follow suit in local government, especially in Auckland, Manukau and Porirua.

Then, in 1993, the first Pacific person became an MP. It followed that in 1999 Luamanuvao Winnie Laban became the first Pacific woman to become a New Zealand Member of Parliament. In 2007 she was the first Pacific woman to become a Government Minister.

So, returning to the original question, how do we acknowledge the modern Pacific women of Aotearoa New Zealand who share in this proud heritage of strong Pacific leaders?

On the occasion of Celebrating 125 years of Women’s Suffrage, we acknowledge Pacific women on behalf of the Prime Minister of the NZ Government, the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Ministers Carmel Sepuloni and Jenny Salesa, Associate Speaker Poto Williams and Anahila Kanongataha-Suisuiki, which make up the biggest caucus of Pacific MPs in the history of New Zealand’s Parliament.