Sheena | Mt Wellington

“I suppose what it means to be a woman in 2017 for me is just such an amazing array of choices that are available.

You can sort of do anything, be anyone, and believe anything. Although, my husband thinks that females aren’t getting a fair deal with pay. I suppose I come from, in terms of change, from the bottom of the South Island and from a really strong family community, and so there’s a lot of strong women. I was brought up in a very strong female household, so women’s empowerment has always been a part of my life, and I’ve never sort of thought, you know, I’m being held back because of it.

In terms of how it was encouraged in the household back then, I suppose because I was from a small community, everybody knew each other so you collectively did a lot of things. I remember back then, probably with New Zealand, there wasn’t such a big divide. We grew up in a rural town where everybody knew each other, and everybody integrated with each other, and I belong to a closed Facebook page for my hometown. So it’s still bringing everybody together into the community. It’s recognising and knowing each other’s background and recognising each other’s strengths as well, and just supporting each other in that community. My mother and my grandmother were quite strong personalities.

In terms of when I grew up, my mother and grandmother were both quite strong females, and I remember being very proud that. I think my great-grandmother was one of the women that signed to get the vote for women back then. When my father died when I was about 17, my mother took over his shop, and so she ran this electrical business as a female in a small rural town. That was quite an amazing thing, and she was sort of trying to forge her way with that. She eventually changed the shop from being that to being a dressmaking shop, which is unusual. So it was probably more just seeing rather than her saying something. I saw what she was doing, and the expectation maybe she placed on us; that there were no boundaries in our lives, and so now I empower people in all the jobs I’ve done, to really try and get them to do their best as well.

On diversity…

The last time I felt different or out of place was in my previous job which I travelled a little bit overseas for into developing countries. The name constantly changes, but I went and visited Rwanda and went into this woman’s home, and she’d suffered through the genocide. Her mother had actually been attacked by a guy with a machete. So I was just trying to understand or have some sort of paradigm for that, and I just couldn’t really. I just didn’t know what she’d gone through, and could see the pain in the people. Many people would come up and just share stories spontaneously and it was like, I don’t know how to deal with this, and I was trying recall where I actually was when the genocide occurred. There just didn’t seem to be anything that said, right they’re now killing half a population in a country.

People talk about where they were when Lady Diana died and these famous people, but I was trying to recall where I was when that genocide occurred, and just stepping into that country knowing that there was a lot of hurt, a lot of things going on, I just felt that I should be stepping in when so many things had gone on and I wasn’t even aware of them.

That was probably quite an awakening, and I felt quite out of place in that country, and even being there and seeing the people after. It was probably only about 10 years ago, but I suppose in that role, because I went overseas a lot and then come back to New Zealand, and I just saw how much we had as a country here.

We still don’t really understand maybe the extent of hardship that is seen overseas in countries where there’s no government support, where there’s corruption; all of those things. But, equally it made me realise I can’t come back and judge. You know? People have got different stories. They’ve got different lives. You can’t actually bring judgement of what you’ve seen back home. You have to have an open mind.”

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