Each International Women’s Day, suddenly even the most unlikely brands and publications showcase feminist icons and reel out the lists (often written by men) of wonderful women who are household names – in New Zealand Kate Sheppard, Jean Batten, Nancy Wake, Lorde, Valerie Adams and Helen Clark often get the nod. Not to take anything away from what these women have achieved, sometimes against incredible odds – but we’d like to add a few to the list.

The Pre-European Women

Brave women have been in Aotearoa for around 700 years.

  • Whakatane is named after the deed of Wairaka, a chieftainess. The men had gone ashore and the canoe began to drift. Wairaka cried out “Ka Whaka tane au i ahau” (“I will make myself a man”), and began to paddle. With the help of the other women she saved the canoe, and those aboard.
  • Rau-whato of Taupo swam 5 miles through the night across the lake, bearing her small son on her shoulders to escape a war party.
  • Huria Matenga, Chieftainess of the Ngati-Awa, Ngati-Tama and Ngati-Toa Tribes, with her husband, at risk of life swam for a rope through a stormy sea, thereby saving the lives of the crew of the wrecked English Brigantine, Delaware.

The Single Mothers

Raising a healthy, happy child on a double income, with a supportive partner is a challenge that wearies the best of us. Take away an income and a parent and the equation becomes much harsher.

Yet thousands of women do an amazing job at parenting alone, running a cosy home, holding down a job. We salute you.

The Survivors of Violence

Our statistics for violence against women make grim reading, and it’s a cruel fact that partner or ‘domestic’ violence is far, far too high. Women face huge challenges leaving abusive situations, especially if they have children to provide for.

We acknowledge the Kiwi women living in abusive relationships, and all those who have left and created new lives for themselves.

The Political Game-changers

It takes gumption to be the first, the youngest, the only. Here’s looking at you Elizabeth, Marilyn, Golriz and Jacinda!

  • In 1933 Elizabeth McCombs became our first woman MP.
  • Marilyn Waring was the youngest woman ever elected (at 23 years and one month, she was 2 months younger than Chloe Swarbrick, and lets remember, this was 1975).
  • Golriz Ghahraman became our first refugee MP in 2017.
  • Jacinda Adern is our youngest female Prime Minister (and second youngest ever, Edward Stafford was 52 days younger when he took office in 1856).

The Activists

Standing up and speaking out – to change the world.

  • Dame Whina Cooper literally walked the walk. A Te Rārawa leader and woman of mana, she spent her life fighting for Māori rights, especially for women, and is most remembered for leading 5000 protesters in the Māori land rights march from Cape Reinga to Wellington.
  • Anne Else was at the forefront of the women’s liberation movement in NZ. She co-founded Broadsheet in 1972, New Zealand’s most prominent feminist magazine, which was published for 25 years.
  • Ngahuia te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe) is a trailblazer in the women’s movement. She is now an Emeritus Professor of  the University of Waikato, and remains a leading feminist writer, lesbian rights activist and advocate for Māori issues.
  • Laura O’Connell Rapira fights for environmental issues, human rights and social justice, and has spearheaded a number of events and engagement campaigns.


We know that every womyn has her own special gifts and uniqueness to offer. Regardless of how you focus your efforts, if you are true to yourself and brave, you’ll do great things.

Let’s lift each other up and value the work we do, the creativity and passion we have for the people and pursuits we love, and keep making this world a better place.