News | 8 March 2022
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Council’s wāhine toa celebrate International Women’s Day

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by recognising the women who have inspired and led the way for some of Wellington City Council’s wāhine toa.

Image of 2019 Councillors at the inauguration

Wellington City Council has a proud legacy of women in politics including Annie McVicar becoming Wellington’s first female Councillor in 1921, Tala Cleverley being sworn in as the first Pasifika Councillor in 1979, Fran Wilde elected as Wellington's first female Mayor in 1992, and Jill Day becoming the first female Māori Councillor in 2016.


Currently there are 11 female Councillors representing the five wards of the Capital, here’s what some of them had to say about the women that have made a mark on their life and careers.


Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons

On International Women’s Day, I reflect on the woman who have inspired me. They include former Trade Union leader and proud Wellingtonian Helen Kelly, and my grandmother Ann McPhee. They were both incredibly strong women who worked hard, loved people and fought for what they believed in.



Councillor Jill Day

On International Women’s Day I think about the rangatahi Māori who I have mentored over the past four years as a Councillor. I think that I have learnt more from them than they have learnt from me.


I am inspired by the pathways that they choose and their willingness to challenge and be challenged.


They are so deeply focussed on supporting others and protecting Papatuanuku. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see the world from their perspective and to learn from them.


Councillor Laurie Foon

I am finding much inspiration to celebrate women's achievements in our city right now. 


At Te Papa, Rita Angus was able to defy convention and devote herself to being a woman painter, Lisa Reihana whose work In Pursuit of Venus (infected), also showing at Te Papa, has found global acclaim as an influencer of contemporary Māori art and Hilma af Klint at Wellington City Gallery, discussed as being one of the most important artists – historic or contemporary – created her masterpieces in an era offering limited creative freedoms for women.


To create these significant works these women would have had to be disobedient and determined. Get out there to see and celebrate these women's achievements and take some time to reflect on your own this International Women's Day.


Deputy Mayor Sarah Free

Hugely important up to my twenties was my grandmother Marie (Marjory) Free, who lost her own mother at age 14 and to her strong regret had to leave school early to work and help at home.


She married young and raised six children. She was an incredibly loving, supportive grandmother who never let us forget the importance of education, following your dreams and service to others.


As a political mentor, I’ll give tribute to activist Molly Melhuish, who analysed data, wrote articles and lobbied tirelessly to get more energy efficient homes and fairer electricity deals for householders.  She also taught countless women to sail in her boat “Chickadee” - teamwork and fun combined. But there so many others I could name!


Councillor Nicola Young

Staunch women have been a feature of my family for generations. Women who worked quietly but effectively: my maternal great-grandmother, Jacobina Luke, who was Wellington’s mayoress (1913-21) during WWI and the Spanish ‘flu epidemic, and later ran food centres for invalids during the Depression.


She was known for her ‘organising abilities, hospitality, kindness, pleasantness and love.


My paternal grandmother (Alice Young) who, having lost her husband, raised my father on her own. My mother, Joan Young, was a fantastic role model too. 


I’ve three feisty sisters and a daughter – in London – and we have all taken on different challenges (health and financial in particular) and won. Like other lucky women, I stand on the shoulders of my maternal forebears, and I’m grateful for their leadership and inspiration.


Councillor Iona Pannett

On International Women’s Day it is a great opportunity to reflect and celebrate the contributions that so many women have made to Te Whanganui-a -Tara. 


I am so grateful to all of those who have worked for Papatūānuku, to those who have worked to ensure Te Tiriti o Waitangi is honoured; to those who have raised children, built strong communities and created amazing businesses. 


The day is also a chance to reflect on what is to come. With so many talented women achieving in so many areas, there is much hope for the future. 


Councillor Tamatha Paul

This International Women's Day, and with COVID-19 affecting our families and communities, I am reflecting on the caring work that women traditionally do, and have done throughout history, which continues to be undervalued and underpaid in our society.


International Women's Day is not just about reflecting on the representation of women in senior roles, it's also about appreciating and valuing the day-to-day work that Mother's, Kuia, Aunties and Sisters do which the world could not function without. I hope that one day our society will value and grant economic justice to the caring, nurturing mahi of wāhine.