E ngā mana,
E ngā reo,
E ngā waka
Tēnā koutou katoa
of many languages
Greetings to you all
I would like to wholeheartedly congratulate Shakti on your 20th anniversary.
I would like to acknowledge the crucial work that you do in ethnic communities, supporting women and advocating for their rights.
Violence against women and children remains one of the most serious and pervasive human rights abuses in the world.
Unfortunately, violence and traditional practices such as dowryabuse,forcedandunderagemarriage are still evident in New Zealand.
As Hillary Clinton said these practices are not cultural, they are criminal.
Shakti has been a long-time advocate against these practices.
You have never, ever given up.
You have submitted to numerous committees.
You have spoken out whenever you can.
You have travelled to the other side of the world to advocate to international UN treaty body committees and you have succeeded in raising the voices of women and facilitating immense change regarding their rights
Today I am reminded of my own special relationship with Shakti.
Just under 6 years ago, Pacific Women’s Watch hosted a conference in Auckland that was held in commemoration of the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Universal Children’s Day
Members of Shakti brought along a young woman who spoke about her experience of being forced into marriage at the age of fourteen.
This courageous young woman told the audience that she had her first child at age 15 in one of our DHBs and that no one had questioned her on the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy. She had two more children before eventually, with the support of Shakti, she left the abusive marriage.
I was utterly shocked, as were the other members of the audience, that this was happening right here in New Zealand.
I suggested that we should draft a petition right away and get every person present to immediately sign it.
Shakti proposed the wording and three days later I presented the petition to Parliament it in the name of Jane Prichard with 46 signatories.
The petition asked that the House of Representatives examine the practice of cultural marriage to underage females and initiate legislation to effectively intervene in the prevention of abuse of human rights arising out of such marriages in New Zealand.
The petition was subsequently heard by the Justice and Electoral Select Committee in May 2010. The Committee in its report acknowledged that forced and underage marriage was a serious issue and recommended that the Government take actions to prevent this from occurring.
In 2011, the government considered that more legislation was “unlikely to have a significant impact on the incidence of forced marriage.” However it agreed to review the relevant legislation.
I was unable to forget about that young woman and in 2012 after getting support from the caucus, I drafted a private members bill, the Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill which amended the Marriage Act1955, proposing a requirement that that 16-17 year olds had to apply to the Family Court if they wished to be legally married in New Zealand. The bill also setout how the court should consider theapplication.
Lady luck did not smile on it and it languished in the ballot box.
However, it was encouraging to see a letter of agreement from key Government agencies committing to a collective response, should victims of forced or underage marriage come forward late in 2012.
Beverley Turner (L) and Jane Prichard (R) of the Pacific Women's Watch with Dr Jackie Blue (C)
Earlier this year I was really pleased to hear that a cross party group of women the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) recognised that there are issues affecting women and girls that transcended partylines and they had agreed that they develop a collaborative legislative agenda to address these.
The first bill that they wanted to promote was my former member’s bill.
To me this was momentous.
This bill which had its genesis in the advocacy by Shakti was serving as a way to bring New Zealand women parliamentarians together and work collectively.
I understand that the CWP members then began working with their respective parties and with the Minister of Women’s Affairs.
It is hugely significant to me that the CWP is embarking on promoting legislation along non-partisan lines that will primarily benefit women in New Zealand.
I firmly believe that women across the world’s parliaments have a role to play in making gender equality a reality.
In the recent Cabinet Paper that was released on the work programme on family and sexual violence, I was very pleased to see paragraph #52 simply state that "the Hon Louise Upston, Minister for Women, is currently considering the issue of forced marriage and may bring recommendations to Cabinet shortly".
I have absolutely no doubt that this bill will become a reality. I am convinced that the day is coming very soon where children will not be forced into marriage against their will in New Zealand.
This reality will be accredited to work and advocacy from your organisation.
I was also pleased that last week in the discussion document that was released on strengthening New Zealand’s legislative response to family violence, Shakti was one of seven organisations profiled for people to contact if they needed help.
While it is promising that the issue of forced marriage is getting some traction with government, there is still a lot of work to do regarding the status of women in New Zealand.
We are still in a society where women are not treated equally.
Along with violence against women and children, there is no country in the world where women share economic and political power equally.
There is no country in the world where the pay gender gap is zero.
Women continue to be a minority in senior decision making roles and in Parliament.
In some countries, the human rights of women and girls have been seriously impacted in the name of religion, culture and tradition.
Far too often they have paid the biggest price in these cultural conflicts.
The indefensible practice of child marriage in some societies still occurs
At the very least these girls miss opportunities for education. At worst they are at risk of teen pregnancy and even death as a result of having children too early when their bodies are not ready.
When I attended the Commission on the Status of Women in March this year I attended a side event about forced marriage.
A young African woman called Faith told her story - when she was 9 years an arranged marriage was organized to a much older man. If the marriage had gone ahead the family would have received one cow.
At that stage Faith had never been to school. She ran away and was fortunate to get support. She became educated and is now a role model for other young girls in her village and a strong advocate against forced marriage.
She eventually reconciled with her father and made him understand that as an educated woman she can provide far more for her family than just the one cow the family would have received if she had married at age 10 years.
Her father is now her biggest supporter.
The story was inspirational.
Education, economic empowerment and access to sexual and reproductive health services are crucial to gender equality.
Families, communities and countries will move forward as a result.
Where to from here?
Countries that do not face up to issues of gender equality will stagnate and regress.
Countries that want to progress economically must accept gender equality on all levels - emotionally, morally and legally.
Ensuring equal rights to women is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the bright thing to do.
In summing up, I would like to once again applaud and praise Shakti on the tireless advocacy, hope and light they bring to women in New Zealand and the enormous contribution you have made in the realisation of rights pertaining to women and girls.
Margaret Mead stated “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Shakti, thank you for changing the lives of women and inviting us all along to join with you in the process. May the next 20 years be even more fruitful.