Helen Clark: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

It was quite a coup for the festival organisers securing a busy woman like Helen Clark to fill in last-minute for a guest withdrawal.

But like the other authors, Helen had a book to promote so I guess it's tit-for-tat.

For a woman of 68, Helen shows no signs of retiring and writing her memoirs. She's still in the political game and loving it. Her energy is inspiring.

Women, Equality, Power: Selected Speeches From A Life of Leadership

Lianne Dalziel, once Helen's political colleague and now Mayor of our fair city, was the moderator and Lianne had done her homework and asked some illuminating questions.

Helen's new book is a collection of speeches, Women, Equality, Power: Selected speeches from a life of leadership (Allen and Unwin), and spans from her parliamentary maiden speech in 1982 to a recent speech from March 2018 given in Manila in her role in UNDP.

Helen entered the political arena in the time of the clamouring for a nuclear-free Pacific and was very much involved in New Zealand declaring itself nuclear-free, barring the USS Buchanan from entering NZ waters and splitting from ANZUS to forge our own independent political policy stance, also incurring the wrath of our Australian allies who remained subservient to US demands. (Thought: I wonder if Helen ever met Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil)

In 1987, Helen Clark became a Cabinet minister in the Fourth Labour Government, led by David Lange (1984–1989), Geoffrey Palmer (1989–1990) and Mike Moore (1990). As Minister of Health in 1989 she was instrumental in bringing in the Smokefree Act which brought about the tobacco lobby's PR doing a "hatchet job" on her. But she is still proud of what she achieved as Minister of Health and Kiwis now breathe fresher air in bars and restaurants and other public places.

She regretted that her Employment Equity Bill was "killed by Bill Birch". She feels that the Gender Pay Gap may have narrowed or closed if it had passed into law.

Helen Clark became the Leader of the Opposition on 1 December 1993. And in 1995, she met Nelson Mandela at a CHOGM conference which was held that year in Auckland. He told her that he really valued New Zealand's opposition to apartheid and that the prisoners on Robben Island had cheered when they heard that the Hamilton game of the 1981 Springbok tour was cancelled due to protest actions.

Clark said she was inspired by many global women world leaders such as many in Latin America and Africa and "the two Marys" who had been Presidents of Ireland and made a powerful difference to Irish society.

And in 1999, Clark made New Zealand history when she became the first elected female Prime Minister.

Despite all her work and the work of others, Clark felt that, in New Zealand society, women were still under-represented at every political and business level. She felt we still had "a big issue" with sexual and gender-based violence and quoted the Women, Peace and security annual survey done by the University of Georgetown in Washington D.C. which placed New Zealand at 18th which Clark said was "just not good enough". Iceland was Number One so they were obviously doing something very right for their women.

Clark had so much more to say in her hour onstage about Brash and pervasive racism; how climate change killed more women than men; how having a decent, warm home is a fundamental of a fair society; how media scrutiny of women leaders verged on the ridiculous; about Australia's treatment and detention of refugees; about how the European so-called "Migration crisis" completely forgot about the past colonial spread of European powers into Africa, Asia, the Pacific and South America; how young women had more opportunities now than when she was a young woman to aspire to high levels of leadership in every sphere of society.

I must end with a quote that had all the audience, men included, laughing out loud. When Clark and Dalziel were discussing the "glass ceiling", Clark quoted Laura Liswood, the Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, who said that she never talked about the glass ceiling because she preferred to call it "a thick layer of men".

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