BY AZARIA HOWELL

“There is enough power in all of us to change the world,” was just one of the inspiring quotes said by our Prime Minister on this extraordinary night. In the middle of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, incredible young women attended a historic event to mark the 125th year of women getting the right to vote in New Zealand and were welcomed onto the land by a local iwi representative.

After the heartwarming karakia came a truly beautiful performance by the Burnside High School Bel Canto Choir, which set the scene for an unforgettable evening. The event was held in Christchurch, sometimes called the heart of the suffrage movement. Being the former home of Kate Sheppard (the woman who started the petition to give women in New Zealand the right to vote), Elizabeth McCombs (the first female MP), and Dame Ann Hercus (the first minister for women), it felt fitting that the event took place in Christchurch.

The three women listed above are only a small fraction of the inspiring women to come out of Christchurch; one of those women who is clearly on the list is the Honourable Lianne Dalziel, the mayor of the city. Every word Dalziel spoke at the event radiated inspiration, courage, and hope for the future of Christchurch. During her speech, she told young Cantabrians about the rich history of the region in regards to women’s rights. “Your city is a part of who you are and its history is part of who you are too.” She reminded the audience how important it was for women to stand up for themselves and to do “what they need to do to achieve equality,” a common theme which the event revolved around.

Her advice to young women in the crowd was to not be complacent. “None of us can afford to be complacent. Kate Sheppard knew she couldn’t be complacent either.” The mayor went on to speak of Sheppard’s personal mission to improve the rights of women throughout the country. “Three years after the first vote was obtained, Kate helped set up the National Council of Women, with the first meeting right here, in Christchurch. In three years’ time, we will celebrate 125 years of that organization which continues to be a powerful voice for women.” After hearing the wise words of the Christchurch mayor, a standing ovation saw an equally awe-inspiring speech from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern spoke with confidence and unapologetically called herself a feminist. She told the crowd stories of past “ordinary women achieving extraordinary things,” and felt hope for the future of women after seeing a high amount of young people attend the event. She accredited her success to the triumphs of wāhine toa to come before her, including former Prime Minister Helen Clark. Whilst being busy inspiring young women, Ardern also gave advice to the women in the audience who sought it. “You’ll always have that seed of doubt. But you can do anything in spite of it,” was just one of the affirmations of positivity given to young women by our Prime Minister.

Wrapping up an amazing night with a final karakia, members of the public couldn’t help but give an overwhelming round of applause to everyone who filled up the crowded Isaac Theatre Royal. This event marked the beginning of a new era of female leaders, and I was honoured to attend.

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