Rt. Hon. Dame Jenny Shipley and myself at the launch of Bay of Islands Women's Nexus.

Rt. Hon. Dame Jenny Shipley and myself at the launch of Bay of Islands Women's Nexus.

'Equality for Women is Progress for All'

"When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all," says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for International Women’s Day 2015.

I want start by saying how blessed I feel to have been born and raised in Aotearoa.  Although we as a country do have many challenges on a number of levels, I am eternally grateful that I have not bore the hardship of being female in a country where women as a whole can be treated with such disrespect and at times abhorrently...it is often beyond belief but sadly very real

Although in full agreement of the topic, I must say that I struggled somewhat with my preparation, as I had being unsure how to address such a topic without being disrespectful to men in general, who I very much value.

I do however recognise that for this world to be truly prosperous and healthy we must find balance – which is currently lacking.

And not just between the sexes.  For our mother earth to flourish and as an off shoot - continue to sustain us - we, as human beings, must urgently look to return balance to our planet.  A topic for another day :)

So, finding balance between the sexes...this to me means recognising and respecting what the opposites bring to make the whole.  Whether it be masculine and feminine, night and day, hot and cold – the strength in these is that one can not be without the other.

... It is quite clearly recognised that in business, women and men bring quite different approaches to the table – and that this can produce some very well balanced and effective decision making. 

Having or gaining more power is generally not a key motivator for women.  We tend to be more inspired by the feeling of achievement, making a difference and being valued or adding valve.

Which brings me to the point, that we need to start challenging the western approach that for women to be successful in business, we don't need to act (or dress) like a man to be taken seriously.

We need to celebrate this diversity between the sexes rather than trying to control and manipulate it to ones own end.

As a people this is where our strength will come from.  Our unity and our healing.

And we do live in a time where we need to heal.  Individually and collectively.  We need to learn to forgive and make peace.  We must be brave and expect better, want for more, fly the flag for freedom, respect, grace and prosperity.  And it all starts with us – you and me...

Women, I believe, play a significant role in bringing about this change.  Although often the physically weaker sex – we are strong of heart, carry great wisdom (I believe) and can endure and grow from many trials and tribulations. We are renown for balancing hectic lifestyles and having exceptional organisational skills ;)

And, I believe, we inherently know what is right – we just don't always have the self belief that can be required to make the change.

So this is what I would now like to focus on – encouraging us, as women, to believe that we can be all that we want to be and often a lot more – I do find that humans in general underestimate just what we are capable of.

I am also a firm believer that we all have a very special purpose and that is to be the best that we can be and thus we must push ourselves onwards and upwards.

 Which is often much easier said than done.

 Why?  I think I will call it conditioning – society norms or the beliefs that we learn as children which we can carry with us for a life time - if we are not brave enough to challenge them and then make the change.

 Now – some of these beliefs are good...very good, some are unhelpful and others can be down right destructive.  I just want to note, that society beliefs are different all over the place, rural...urban, one culture...another culture, etc

So, let's briefly have a look at maybe an outdated belief – one that I have personal experience in and its a bit of a tough one. 

Growing up to believe that having children comes naturally and that all women should be mothers.  Well, actually that's two but closely tied – because if you can't achieve the first then you may not achieve the second.

 So growing up with this belief – which you don't even realise is a belief - it just is...it's comes as a bit of a shock (to say the least) that this is not actually the case...

So, one goes through a bit of a rocky journey – because having something that is so ingrained in you, so part of you, so desired by you - having that taken away from you – can 'feel' a bit soul destroying.

Turns out, well for me, its not – soul destroying that is.  In fact, I found my inner strength (which was always there) and I became much wiser and less judgemental because of this part of my journey.

Once again not going into detail today, after my last round of IVF I spend two years healing and growing to very much enjoy my freedom and the opportunities it brought.  To understand that life can be very rewarding and that its quite alright not to have children – in fact it gives you a great appreciation as to why some women choose not to.

However, in my case life had another big surprise... in its very magical way … and I was gifted with a daughter, who I am eternally grateful for and teaches me every day.

So, when we as women look for equality, which we most certainly deserve and should have – as its quite natural and normal, we have to believe...deep down... that we are actually entitled to it – and that this can go against some well ingrained belief systems – whether we realise it or not (and this goes for men as well).

I believe and have experienced that often what we are taught and what actually ‘is’ vary greatly. One can be set in fear (not always intentionally) teaching people to behave in a certain way – a form of control.  The other is set in self acceptance and trusting in what’s right for one’s own journey.  That’s right, one’s own journey.

It’s not about the masses or about what someone else thinks.  It’s about learning to recognise and trust in one’s own intuition, ones own journey.  It's about finding that quiet place inside – where peace remains supreme.  I have found that making decisions from this place has never put me wrong...I will note that it can often be quite hard to find this space sometimes with all the hub bub that goes on in my head and around me...

Yes our journeys inter-weave with each other – all the time, but your journey and my journey are not the same and should not be compared. 

This is certainly not suggesting that I should get own with my own life – damn the rest of you :) Quite the opposite...

For me to be truly authentic, to be all that I can be – should bring me to a place of compassion and empathy.  Recognition that although I am an individual I am part of the whole.  For me to truly succeed, I need to be in a space of success, which means my wider community, district, etc is also succeeding or prosperous.

And not many things give me more joy than seeing people I work or interact with grow and overcome obstacles, finding moments of happiness on the way, as they journey along their path to be all that they can be...and should be. 

To inspire, encourage and or uplift another individual is quite something.  And it's not because you actually did anything other than believe in them.  Its because they did it for themselves – they found a happy place - and they in turn carry on to inspire others – its has a wonderful ripple effect.

Just a wee note here that we have to be very careful not to underestimate our influence (both good and bad).  You don't have to be famous or rich to inspire others – simple acts....doing the right thing by you, being brave, over coming challenges, living a full life, whatever it may look like can be quite inspiring for those that have not yet found their place.

I would now like to briefly touch on two things. 

One: the need to support our young women and help instil in them the right belief systems so thatthey are encouraged to make vibrant decisions that will help them truly prosper.  That they don't need to be a size eight, have long flowing hair and a buff boyfriend to have a wonderful life.  That they are all specifically and specially created perfect as we are.  That they are valued and have something very important to do with our lives – and that is to be the amazing person that they are – right now (you may also want to point out that life gets very boring when everything is the same...)

The second point... as women we need to start being a bit nicer to each other.  Just like we need to inspire our young women we need to inspire each other.

Women (generalising here) are quite renown for being catty and nasty...something I personally experienced at high school and one of the reasons I probably tend to hang out more with men now...

This behaviour comes from a place of low self esteem.  If we want equality, then we need to stand together united and encourage each other – not compare or pull down.  We need to stand by each other, compliment, uplift.  Just saying hello to a stranger can make someone's day.

And I don't think a little bit of envy does any harm as desire is often a great motivator (just don't let it turn to jealousy – very destructive)...

For many of us, challenging our belief systems will take courage... it will require us to step outside of our comfort zone...(I encourage it – its quite liberating)

I recently read a quote on Facebook saying “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”

Courage is a fine line between hope, knowing and respect for one’s self.  It’s going to take courage and hope and faith to be all you can be.  Life does offer great abundance

And love will provide the strength to show you the way

Having this hope will help you confidently take the next step and in achieving that step you will want to take another...and another...

So, I firmly believe in the power of unleashing women's potential – that will scare a few men lol.

I firmly believe that we have some way to go to achieve balance and that it will take a change of mindset by both men and women.

I firmly believe that we need to do this - our world depends on it.

Equality or balance is the right thing – the only thing that will bring true prosperity to human kind.