A couple of days ago, I won a thing. It was quite a big thing, a bit of a deal. A fancy dinner it was. I had to wear a dress, and a full face of makeup. I even had an up-do.
The name of this thing was Women Of Influence, and it turned out that enough people loved the work The Aunties do that I won the Supreme High Goddess Grand PooBah award. Oh sorry, the Supreme Award.
Anyway, the next day was a whirlwind of phonecalls and messages of support and love. I went on the telly and the radio, and there was an absolutely beautiful profile of me in the paper.
Fabulous. It was all fabulous.
Because what it was was an acknowledgement of the women I work with. That they deserve love. They deserve to be heard, believed, cared for, supported.
And with that in mind, I’d like to tell you about who my women of influence have been, and are, in this work of mine.
Celia was this most extraordinary woman. I had heard her speak many years ago at a big hui, and what she had to say impacted so strongly on me that I still remember almost word for word exactly what her message was.
“You have to help women unpack the baggage from their past”. See, Celia used to run Christchurch Women’s Prison, and later, she was to go on to write books about raising boys, and finally in her life, was turning back to working with women. She thought that mothers were key, absolutely key, in changing our landscape of violence and misogyny. Turn to the mothers, she said. Look after them, and they’ll look after their kids. And that’s what I believe too.
Kris is a social worker. She’s also the woman I first met when I rang a refuge almost 6 years ago, who told me exactly what the women at that refuge needed. I followed her lead, and listened to her carefully. She was the one who encouraged me to sit with the women. To build relationships with them. I’ve heard talk in the last few days that I was the one who decided to get all this stuff together for women, but I wasn’t. That was Kris, and I just did her bidding. She’s a really determined person, and never takes no for an answer, and I think that has to be a really great quality when you’re working with people who are under resourced.
Aneta runs an organisation that I work closely with. She’s been running it for a while. When I finished working with refuges, I told her I was all hers, and I meant it. (Well, hers and all the other people I work with, but apart from the women, that organisation is the Aunties main relationship organisationally). The organisation is led by Māori women and it does really effective work in the community it serves.
Aneta is pretty fierce. She has a vision and she always has a plan. Like Kris, she’s allowed me in to the whanau, this big hearted generous whanau, that she’s the head of. She and I think an awful lot alike and we have war sessions, where we put our heads together and think how we can get stuff done that needs doing, thrash it all out, collaborate and compare notes.
I first met Moe on the lawn of a place that became very dear to me. She was on this incredible road to healing, and Kris introduced me to her so proudly. We lost touch for a wee while, but reconnected and discovered that we are heart sisters. She is the MOST phenomenal woman. She’s a wee bit like an ocean – you dive down a bit, and then you figure out just how deep she is. She’s ridiculously modest, but she’s also really bloody strong in her maūri. She’s the lynchpin of her whanau, and it’s an honour to walk alongside her as I learn how to handle uncertainty with laughter and grace.
Oh, and also she’s the Chairperson of The Aunties Board. So perfect it’s almost surreal how perfect it is.
The women I meet every day. The women I walk alongside, who choose to walk alongside me.
The sadness and irony is that the people who are the most ignored, the most unheard, the most marginalised? They are the most incredible, interesting, passionate, wise people who we should all be consulting on public policy and law reforms.
But the women I work with fear being shamed and judged, more than almost anything else. They are silenced by their shame. Silenced by our judgement. And the shame lies with us, not them.
Every day I sit with women who I am in complete awe of. They’re thanking me, and I tell them, honestly, that I should be thanking THEM. Because they are my teachers. I am but their student in grace, and joy, and dignity under fire. I drink in their wisdom, and spending time with them feels like this immense privilege. Does that sound disingenuous? A bit performative?
I mean those words.
And I mean these ones too:
We ignore these women, in our communities, at our peril. Unless we find ways, effective ways, of making sure we treasure them, until we do that, nothing in our society changes. Until policy is written with them in mind, BY them, in consultation with them, nothing changes. Until the bureaucrats and politicians – ALL of them – understand why they’re in government and who they’re here to serve, nothing changes. And until we listen when someone says “this is my story”, and I mean ACTIVELY listen, nothing changes.
So, this is my challenge to all of you.
Think about the women of influence in your life. Think about whether their voice is heard, whether they are represented in policy, whether they’re being valued enough, and if you think they aren’t, you fight for them. You fight for them, hard. Treat them with respect, love, and afford them dignity. Listen to their voices telling you what they need.
Let’s change this world, starting in our own communities. Let’s support our women of influence, recognise their influence, and boost them up.