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Tariana Turia - Human Rights Amendment Bill

Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill

Wednesday 6 September 2006

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Tena koe Mr Speaker, tena tatou katoa

I want to say, I couldn’t help but agree with Judith Collins and Ron Mark in the issues that are associated with Nancy Wake. It makes this Bill (the Human Rights, Women in Armed Forces, Amendment Bill) look hypocritical in that here we are talking aout women being at the front line, and yet we are not prepared to honour the woman who stood at the front line, and who is somebody of Maori and New Zealand descent. I feel quite ashamed about that, actually.

When it comes to the discussion of the armed services, this is one area where Maori people can be very proud of their statistics.

The numbers of Maori who serve in the area of combat are huge, and I am really proud of them.

In the excellent publication of 1984, ‘The Maori Battalion Remembers’, Sister Pare Koopu-Saxby describes her experiences as part of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, including sailing up the Suez canal to Port Said, arriving in Tripoli, and eventually transferring to 3G.H in Bari. Memories of very heavy air raids, bombed buildings, and dust storms are casually described, alongside stories of leave in London and sight-seeing.

Indeed, such is the ordinariness of women taking up leadership in defence and peace-keeping roles that has been well known in te Ao Maori.

Ani Mikaere, in an 1994 paper, described Maori women from all iwi, performing leadership in all spheres. She described Waitohi, the sister of Te Rauparaha, as a leader, and an accomplished military strategist. She referred to Heni Pore of Te Arawa, who fought against the British troops in support of the Kingitanga during the 1860s, and who also fought in the battle of Gate Pa at Tauranga in 1864.

Other tribal accounts, honour the voice of women, who would make the call to lead the warriors; the clarity of their karanga recognised.

This glorious background of strength, of valour, of leadership I think provides a useful context for understanding the attraction of the armed forces for many Maori women.

It is also the context which makes it easy for the Maori Party to support a Bill, which removes all impediments from women being able to serve at the front line - if they so choose.

Although we do so, with some reservations. For our preference would be that armed forces would only be deployed under the auspices of supporting a peace-keeping role in the world.

Madam Speaker, we see this Bill is really a formality - it allows legislation to be updated to fit with changes in practice; as well as being consistent with international conventions - such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

But it also gives us an opportunity to promote the fact that the New Zealand Defence Force has made significant progress in improving the representation and distribution of women throughout the Services.

Whilst the intent of this Bill is to repeal section 33 of the Human Rights Act 1993, to remove the exemption allowing discrimination against women; it is only possible because the Armed Forces have made changes to the culture to accept and value women alongside men.

And importantly, a recent review has concluded that they have made much needed improvements to the way in which harassment issues are dealt to as well.

The review into progress into what is called ‘gender integration’ came in response to a Human Rights Commission instigated report, the Burton Report. That report, in turn, responded to complaints about the way in which the Defence Force was managing allegations of harassment and mis-treatment.

Flight Sergeant Viti Flanagan, the first female engine runner in the Air force, talked about the challenge of facing sexist attitudes. Of Maori, Fijian and European whakapapa, Viti was from a highly matriarchal family where women were expected to achieve along with the best of the men. She reflected on some of her experiences:

“Anyone in a position of power could make it difficult. You could either fight every battle and lose the war, or choose your battles and ignore the rest. That’s what I did. But it was quite a lonely existence”.

Laura Gillan, the Human Resources manager for the New Zealand Defence Force, described the enormity of the change: “We are talking about cultural, systemic and attitudinal change….it is up to Defence Force leaders to consider these, and decide whether some of the systems within the services reflect modern arrangement and the expectations of society as a whole”.

I say as we progress this Bill, we should honour all our women, and particularly Nancy Wake, one of our most honourable women in combat.


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