5 Feb 2021

Women political leaders may gain speaking rights on marae at Waitangi

10:10 am on 5 February 2021

After years of controversy, speaking rights for women political leaders on marae may change at Waitangi next year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at Te Whare Rūnanga on 4 February, 2021.

Jacinda Ardern delivering a speech from the mahau, something that no other female political party leader was able to do this year. Photo: RNZ / Jogai Bhatt

Allowance for Jacinda Ardern to deliver a speech from the mahau, or porch, was made for her first appearance at Waitangi as prime minister in 2018.

But other women leaders were not given the same treatment this year - National Part leader Judith Collins, along with Greens co-leader Marama Davidson, were given the opportunity to speak from the mahau, but effectively after the formalities were over.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark was famously brought to tears after being blocked from speaking in the pōwhiri at Te Tii marae while opposition leader in 1998, because she was a woman.

Last year Ngāpuhi wahine Mere Mangu, the chair of Te Rūnanga a Iwi o Ngāpuhi, broke with kawa, or protocol, and welcomed the politicians, vocally challenging the rules about women speaking on the marae.

Collins abandoned the agreed plan for her to speak after the break for kai; organisers mistakenly started to pack away the chairs and most of the crowd had moved on to another event.

Deputy leader Shane Reti said they were not disappointed she had not spoken, that all National's issues had been addressed in his speech on the marae ātea, and they had "a promise and a commitment, from Ngāpuhi, that we will hold them to, for next year".

That's for all women leaders to be able to speak during the pōwhiri in 2022, alongside Ardern, he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins listening to speakers at Te Whare Rūnanga on 4 February, 2021.

Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins listening to speakers at Te Whare Rūnanga. Photo: RNZ / Jogai Bhatt

Afterwards Collins told reporters, despite the raruraru, she felt very welcome on the marae and had really enjoyed the day.

Collins acknowledged an "unfortunate set of circumstances" which had led to her not speaking, but that they had now dealt with it in a "more positive light" and that she would be "very surprised if they're the protocols for next year".

She said they had had discussions with those who control the protocols "to enable not only women leaders of political parties to speak, but also for women generally to speak, and I think that is something we are going to see some progress on".

Collins described that as "non-confrontational" and praised Reti's role in pointing out the unfairness of the current arrangement and helping to negotiate a solution.

"I know that when Shane made his statement about women speaking that that was greeted with a lot of people, mana whenua, saying 'yes, it's right, it's time, it's time for change'."

She characterised the decision as a "good, affirming message for every young woman, that no matter where she is, she doesn't need to be told that women often lead from the back, there are times when women also want to lead from the front and this is one of them".

Ardern said such decisions were for the Waitangi Trust, but was "heartened to hear at the end of the pōwhiri that call, that decision essentially being made that next year it would be different".

"I think it would be fantastic to give the ability of all leaders to be able to speak just as I have that privilege," she said.

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