My family background is reasonably working class, neither of
my parent went to secondary school. I hold a M.A. (Hons) in Political
Science. I am a mother of two young children, now 8 years old
and 20 months old.
I was elected to the city Council at age 19 because I believed
that politics was the means by which change was best achieved.
Originally I was very interested in national politics but having
gotten into local politics I got sort of "hooked" on it. I have
been Mayor of Christchurch for 9 years, which entails the position
of Chair of Christchurch City Council and a general leadership
role in Christchurch community.
A Woman's Perspective
I think that being a woman when running for office, was probably
an overall advantage. Although when I first stood for Mayor I
also became a mother for the first time and there was a lot of
debate about managing both in the newspapers. The support at that
stage from women, especially older women, was just wonderful.
They were very encouraging indeed. Once in office I actually figured
that if anyone had problems with the fact that I was female, then
that was their problem, and it was for them to deal with. I don't
feel as though I am facing any discrimination at the moment.
As for improving the status of women in general in Christchurch,
I think that just being aware of the needs of women is helpful
as their needs are so widespread. For example, availability and
diversity of childcare; a child- friendly city with adequate playgrounds;
housing especially for families; access to council owned facilities;
free family entertainment; neighbourhood improvements; employment
opportunities; and after-school care, are all relevant issues
to many women.
Breaking The Barriers
I believe the main factors which might prevent or restrict women
from entering the political arena are as follows:-the desire to
achieve more balance in their lives and so not be prepared to
put so much emphasis on the work/career component; the practical
difficulties of balancing family commitments with such a demanding
job which requires many sacrifices; the total lack of privacy
and anonymity; the feeling that a glass ceiling exists and not
seeing this an appropriate role.
A number of policies which have been implemented during my time
in office are related in an effort to increase female participation
in the city but that was not the primary motivation. We have instigated
a Children's Strategy to try and make the city a very child friendly
I think women's concerns and priorities in terms of urban issues
differ from those of men, in the sense that generally women are
more concerned about the people issues, rather than straight infrastructure.
However, this is a huge generalization and I really hate making
such gross generalizations. What is important is that city governments
need to reflect the communities they represent.
I believe that the issues of increasing the number of women with
power in local government and the status of women are related,
but we should not automatically assume that all women will be
sympathetic to other women. Promoting female participation in
politics and increasing the capacity of women in society in general
is a responsibility for all of us, it should not just be put on
There are seven other women councilors on the Christchurch City
Council (out of 24 other councilors). There are two other women
Mayors nearby in adjacent smaller local authorities and a significant
number of women mayors now throughout New Zealand.
In New Zealand I think perceptions of women in politics have
become more positive over the past ten years. Certainly as far
as Mayors in New Zealand go, I think women now have an electoral
advantage. They have generally performed very well in New Zealand
with very high energy levels and high levels of social awareness.
On a personal level I would say my best accomplishment in office
so far has been, staying reasonably sane and keeping my sense
of humour. As for the future I am intending to stand down from
this job in October 1998. To enjoy life, to have fun, and to make
a difference in some other field.