Standing on the shoulders Empowering hero image


Not only did these strong women do great things but they encouraged and emboldened others to do great things too.

Tamsin Hanly

It wasn’t until after she had finished school that Tamsin Hanly realised she was ill-equipped to engage in civil issues. School had done little to teach her the history of Aotearoa New Zealand, and what she had learned was the standard, inaccurate, colonial story beginning with Cook’s discovery. Hanly set about re-educating herself, that led to her becoming a teacher and then to writing Critical Histories, a Professional Development resource designed to empower teachers to teach accurate and informed programmes of our history.

Research for her Master's Degree showed that a lack of resources was a big factor in primary teachers’ reluctance to teach New Zealand history. Hanly set about rectifying that and using the work of well-known historians (Bellich, King, Orange, Walker and Salmond to name a few) to develop Critical Histories. The six-volume, 1,200-page resource is a “beginners guide to basic Māori and Pākehā histories that many people don’t know” and gives teachers the information and activity ideas they need to design their own classroom programmes.

In this excerpt from an interview with Wallace Chapman, Hanly talks about the creation of Critical Histories.

Find out more about Tamsin Hanly:

Visit the Critical Histories website. 

Listen to a RNZ Mediawatch interview with Tamsin Hanly. 

Read an interview with Dale Husband published in e-Tangata.

Collection reference 288190
Year 2016
Credits Interviewer: Wallace Chapman, Sunday Morning, RNZ National

Helen Clark


New Zealand's second female Prime Minister, and the first to have won office at an election, Helen Clark became active in politics while studying at the University of Auckland. 

In this radio interview from election night in 1981, you can hear the newly-elected MP for Mt Albert talking about her hopes for her new life in Parliament.

She would go on to serve as a minister during Labour’s second term from 1987 and then became Deputy Prime Minister two years later. Clark survived attempts to oust her as party leader while in Opposition and in the 1999 election she became New Zealand's first elected female Prime Minister.

After leading Labour through three successful election campaigns, Clark resigned in 2008 and moved to New York to head the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a role she held until 2017. She was the first woman and the first New Zealander to be the UNDP Administrator.

Find out more about Helen Clark:

Visit Helen Clark's website.

Read Helen Clark's profile on

Find out more about the Helen Clark documentary – My Year with Helen.

Check out the Helen Clark Foundation – a Public Policy Think Tank established in 2019. 

Collection reference 25670
Year 1981
Credits RNZ National

Elva Bett

Artist, author, teacher, art gallery owner and dealer, Elva Bett was an empowering force for New Zealand art and artists. 

A gallery director in the 1960s and 70s, Bett exhibited the work of emerging artists such as Tony Fomison, Philip Clairmont and Doreen Blumhardt. She challenged the public to see art as a living substance from the inner being of the artist – not as agreeable pictures on living room walls. A practising artist herself, Bett retired from running her dealer gallery in 1980 and turned her attention to writing, she believed that “while not everyone can learn to be a capital A artist, we can all learn to draw” and to that end she published Drawing and Painting: a complete study course for New Zealanders (1984).

In this excerpt from a 1984 Kaleidoscope interview, Bett discusses her new book and the work that went into its creation.

Find out more – Listen to a RNZ Arts on Sunday interview with Bett. 

Read more about Bett on the Art New Zealand website.

Collection reference TZP7876
Year 1984
Credits Producer: Jillian Ewart; Reporter: John Drawbridge

Dame Jenny Shipley


Dame Jenny Shipley was born in Southland and grew up in rural Canterbury. She trained as a school teacher and entered politics with the National Party in 1987, winning the Ashburton electorate.

When National took power after the 1990 election, she entered cabinet with a number of portfolios under Prime Minister Jim Bolger. As Minister for Health and Social Welfare in the early 1990s, she implemented far-reaching reforms in these sectors.

In November 1997, Jim Bolger was unseated in a leadership coup and Jenny Shipley became New Zealand's first female Prime Minister.

The day after she took over the role, she spoke to Checkpoint's Mary Wilson. In this excerpt from that radio interview Shipley expresses the hope that other New Zealand women will be inspired to take on leadership roles in their lives.

Read more about Dame Jenny Shipley on the NZ History website.

Collection reference 142571
Year 1997
Credits Interviewer: Mary Wilson, Checkpoint , RNZ National

Dame Sukhi Turner


Dame Sukhinder Kaur Turner (known as "Sukhi"), served three terms as Mayor of Dunedin from 1995 until her retirement from the position in 2004. She was the first woman mayor of the city and the first New Zealand mayor of Indian descent.

Born into a Sikh family in Punjab, India, she studied in the United States and moved to New Zealand in the 1970s after marrying cricketer Glenn Turner. She became involved in community organisations and served on the Dunedin City Council before defeating the incumbent mayor in the 1995 local body elections. In this excerpt of radio news coverage of the 1995 election, Turner speaks about the issues she campaigned on, to defeat the incumbent mayor Richard Walls.

A strong environmentalist and member of the Green Party, she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002 and has also received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, India's highest honour for non-resident Indians.

Find out more about Dame Sukhi Turner: 

Listen to a half-hour biographical interview with Sukhi Turner from 1991.

Watch a video tribute to Turner from the Kiwi-Indian Hall of Fame.

Collection reference 21565
Year 1995
Credits: Presenter: Mike Hosking; Reporter: Peter Wells

Roseanne Liang

Award-winning filmmaker Roseanne Liang came to prominence with her documentary Banana in a Nutshell about her romance with a Pākehā New Zealander – a relationship initially kept secret from her Hong Kong-migrant parents.

The boyfriend eventually became her husband and the documentary was turned into the successful feature film, My Wedding and Other Secrets

Her work has highlighted the experience of young Asian New Zealand women, such as her five-season web series Flat 3, Friday Night Bites. In this 2016 radio interview with Jesse Mulligan she talks about her parent's reaction when she decided to become a filmmaker instead of a doctor. 

In 2017, Liang was named by Hollywood's 'Alice Initiative' as one of 20 young female filmmakers to watch and she is set to develop and direct the feature-length version of her action short Do No Harm.

Find out more about Roseanne Liang: 

Visit Roseanne Liang's website.

Listen to Liang's take on the #Time'sUp movement.

Collection reference 288347
Year 2016
Credits Interviewer: Jesse Mulligan, RNZ National

Ida Malosi

Judge Ida Malosi

In 2002, Ida Malosi became the first Pasifika woman judge in Aotearoa when she was appointed to the Family Court. Her impressive career has empowered and emboldened others. After graduating she established an all Māori and Pasifika women legal practice in South Auckland. 

From 2013 to 2014 Malosi served as Samoa’s first female Supreme Court Judge and established the Family Court and the Family Violence Court there. 

Judge Malosi is innovative and an advocate for youth. She has worked hard to implement alternative, culturally appropriate responses to youth offending in her community. This led to the establishment of Rangatahi and Pasifika Courts which, in 2015, received the Award for Excellence in Judicial Administration from the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration. 

In 2017, Judge Malosi was award Victoria University’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Watch Ida Malosi being sworn-in as a Judge, in this clip from Tagata Pasifika.

Find out more about Ida Malosi:

Listen to the RNZ interview with Ida Malosi, I thought all Samoans lived in Bluff.

Read her Alumni profile on the Victoria University Wellington website. 

Collection reference TZP263853
Year 2002
Credits Director: Osone Okesene; Presenter/Reporter: Lisa Taouma

Dame Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira

DNZM, Ngāti Porou

Dame Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira is known for her work in the revitalisation of te reo Māori. Trained as a teacher and art educator along with the luminaries Ralph Hōtere, Cliff Whiting, Freda Kawharu and others, Mataira established a te reo Māori class at Northland College, Kaikohe, the first of its kind in a state school. 

The momentum continued and in the late 1970s along with Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi and others she founded Te Ataarangi, a community-based programme for adult Māori language learners. From there she helped set up the first Kura Kaupapa Māori at Hoani Waititi Marae and co-authored Te Aho Matua, the guiding philosophy for Kura Kaupapa Māori. 

In 1987, Mataira was a founding member of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, the Māori Language Commission. Mataira was also a renowned author and as well as writing award-winning picture books, she published three novels all i roto i te reo Māori. 

A grassroots organiser, teacher and visionary leader Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira empowered and encouraged others to reconnect with and revitalise te reo Māori.

Watch this clip from Te Karere when Kāterina Mataira was acknowledged for her work in the revitalisation of te reo Māori with the International Linguapax Prize.

Find out more about Dame Kāterina Te Heikōkō Mataira: 

Read about Dame Kāterina Mataira in Storylines.

See her obituary published in the NZ Herald.

Collection reference TZP371945
Year 2009
Credits Reporter: Rapaera Tawhai

Eti Laufiso (Agnes Mary Laufiso)

Described as a champion of Pacific grassroots communities, a visionary, a teacher and an activist, Eti Laufiso was an empowering force in her community and for all Pasifika women. 

Laufiso was instrumental in establishing P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A – an NGO for Pacific women living in Aotearoa. She was a driving force for many issues in the Pasifika community and, among other causes, worked to promote childhood education centres, AIDs awareness and civil rights. 

Watch this excerpt from a Tagata Pasifika profile of Eti Laufiso.

Read more about P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A.

Eti Laufiso – Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

Collection reference TZP319249
Year 2006
Credits Director/Narrator/Reporter: Lisa Taouma

Golriz Ghahraman

As New Zealand’s first-ever refugee MP, Iranian-born Kiwi Golriz Ghahraman is a role model who is empowering and inspiring others. Her appointment as a Green Party List MP after the 2017 election is "a victory for a nine-year-old asylum seeker and also a victory for everyone who has ever felt out of place, who has been excluded, or who has been told that she has limits to her dreams". 

A human rights lawyer who has worked in Aotearoa and throughout the world, Golriz Ghahraman has a commitment to human rights that she first got as someone who has seen the world without them.

Watch this excerpt from Golriz Ghahraman’s Maiden Speech to Parliament. Courtesy of Parliament TV.

Read the text of Golriz Ghahraman’s maiden speech to Parliament.

Collection reference N/A
Year 2017
Credits Production: Parliamentary TV

Jacinda Ardern

"I got into politics to make a difference, and I want people to scrutinise my ideas, the alternatives I put up, not whether or not my hair means I’m credible enough to do the job." 

Now the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern acknowledges there is sexism in politics, as in most occupations, the challenge she says, is to confront it where it exists. 

Ardern is setting an example which empowers women to speak up, to enter politics: "... it’s a place where a young woman can make a fantastic contribution".

Watch this excerpt from a Q&A interview recorded in 2015 when she was an MP and before she was the leader of the Labour Party.

Find out more about Jacinda Ardern:

Read about the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern on the Labour website.

Read praise for Jacinda Ardern's leadership in this editorial from the New York Times.

Read an article about Ardern as one of the Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People 2018, by Sheryl Sandberg.

Follow Jacinda Ardern on Facebook.

Collection reference TZP464555
Year 2015
Credits Director: Simon Abplanalp; Presenter: Katie Bradford

Heather Te Au-Skipworth

Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Arawa, Ngāi Tahu

In 2009, Heather Te Au-Skipworth was working as a coach and trainer when she decided to use the sport of triathlon to encourage her overweight clients to make lifestyle changes. She founded 'Iron Māori' with the determination that triathlon could be more than just a sport for middle-class, white men. Since then thousands of people of all ages and levels of fitness have taken part in Iron Māori events, and credit it with helping them and their whānau live healthier lives. 

Te Au-Skipworth has also represented New Zealand in Rugby League and won a Sir Peter Blake Trust Leadership Award in 2011.

In this radio interview from 2011 she explains that the strong kaupapa Māori behind her organisation is the key to its success.

Find out more about Heather Te Au-Skipworth:

Listen to a radio interview with Heather Te Au-Skipworth.

Read more about Iron Māori.

Read an interview with Heather Te Au-Skipworth.

Collection reference 170105
Year 2011
Credits Interviewer: Maraea Rakuraku, Te Ahi Kaa, RNZ National

Mojo Mathers

Mojo Mathers became known as a founding member of the Malvern Hills Protection Society, a grassroots environmental group that acted to stop the building of an irrigation dam in Coalgate in Canterbury. This introduction to political environmentalism led Mathers to national politics and she was elected as a Green Party MP in the 2011 general election. 

Profoundly deaf from birth, Mathers’ entrance into Parliament meant accessibility issues were at the forefront – while New Zealand Sign Language is New Zealand’s third official language, unlike Māori and English it is not represented. 

Mathers has advocated for improved access for the disabled, empowering them so they too can participate effectively and fully in political and public life.

Watch this excerpt from Mojo Mathers’ maiden speech – it was the first time a Parliamentary speech was covered by a signer. Courtesy of Parliament TV.

Read more about Mojo Mathers.

Collection reference N/A
Year 2012
Credits Production: Parliamentary TV

Patricia Grace

Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Āti Awa

In 2011, internationally renowned author, Patricia Grace took a stance to stop the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) from compulsorily taking ancestral whānau land for the Kapiti Expressway near Wellington. Her empowering action paid off when the Māori Land Court and the Environment Court decided in her favour. 

As Patricia Grace said "the decision respects the oral traditions handed down to the family about the ancestral significance of the land, and the historical and cultural importance. It recognises the generosity of our ancestor Wiremu Parata in his donation of land to the Waikanae community for the public works, and our call therefore, that ‘enough is enough’ as far as this family is concerned".

In this excerpt, from Te Karere, Patricia Grace talks about the importance of the land and her tīpuna Wiremu Parata.

Find out more about Patricia Grace.

Collection reference TZP397795
Year 2011
Credits Reporter: Matua Joe Glen

Sister Suzanne Aubert

Suzanne Aubert devoted her life to empowering people. Arriving in Aotearoa in 1860 as a 25-year-old Catholic Missionary, her policy was one of care for those of "all creeds and none". 

Suzanne Aubert worked to improve living conditions for the suffering and the destitute. Her accomplishments were numerous and included establishing childcare centres and hospitals. She was also the first person to successfully combine Māori and Western medicines and was renowned for her medical and surgical services. 

In 2016, Pope Francis declared Suzanne Aubert “Venerable” – an important milestone on the path to canonisation.

Watch this profile of Suzanne Aubert from New Zealand’s Top 100 History Makers.

Find out more about Sister Suzanne Aubert:

You can visit the Sister Suzanne Aubert Heritage Centre online and in Wellington.

Follow the Sisters of Compassion - Ngā Whaea O Pūaroha on Facebook. 

Read the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry for Suzanne Aubert.

Learn more about the path to Sainthood for Sister Aubert.

Collection reference F88720
Year 2005
Credits Directors: John Bates, Mitchell Hawkes; Narrator: Rāwiri Paratene

Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu

ONZ DBE OStJ. Tainui

He piko, he taniwha. He piko, he taniwha, Waikato Taniwharau.

Te Arikinui Dame Atairangikaahu, succeeded her father, King Korokī, in 1966. Her luminous 40-year reign was one of continuity, strength and stability. A woman of great mana, she was Patron of the Māori Women’s Welfare League and Kōhanga Reo.

A trailblazer for both women and Māori, she was the first Māori to be appointed a Dame, the first appointee of the Order of New Zealand and she received two Honorary Doctorates (from Waikato in 1973 and Victoria University in 1999). 

Her rohe, Waikato Tainui, was the first major Treaty Settlement with the Crown in modern times, setting a benchmark for others. A force for unity, Te Arikinui Dame Atairangikaahu passed away just weeks after her 40th coronation and her tangi was attended by thousands.

In this One News excerpt Dame Te Ata acknowledges the many issues facing Māori – she stresses the importance of unity.

Find out more about Te Arikinui Dame Atairangikaahu:

Read the Poroporoaki for Te Arikinui Dame Atairangikaahu on

See the profile for Te Arikinui Dame Atairangikaahu on Te Ara: the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Te Arakinui Dame Atairangikaahu – Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

Read the Parliamentary Obituaries for Te Arikinui Dame Atairangikaahu.

Collection reference TZP288691
Year 2004
Credits Reporter: Tini Molyneux