Women’s History Month 2021

Posted 9 March 2021.

​For Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, The Comms Council wants to further amplify female voices that drive culture and change by bringing to the forefront untold stories of New Zealand women who have made history, and the Wahine Māori who are often forgotten in those conversations. We want to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of all women in the hopes of furthering the conversation around women’s rights and equality. And by women we mean anyone who identifies as a woman because Gender is a spectrum.

As Kiwi’s, we would also like to thank the Trailblazers who fought for the women’s suffrage movement, without whom we would not have the opportunities for the women below to do what they do. Especially, the Wahine Māori such as Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, Iriaka Rātana, and Ākenehi Tōmoana (to name only a few).

We’re going to take you through women from several different industries who are making history as we speak, and finish with women from our very own, advertising. We also want to invite anyone who wants to share their story about being a woman in their field please email us at victoria@commscouncil.nz and we would love to showcase you on our list or do so anonymously.

So, without further adieu, we present the first on our list.

With COVID-19 being the talk of the town it only seemed fair that the first woman we showcase has been putting in the hard mahi to keep us safe.

We’d like to introduce you to Siouxsie Wiles. You may have heard of her, seen her hot pink flowing locks, or follow some of her fabulous social media accounts, but incase you haven’t, here’s a bit about her. As an award-winning scientist, Siouxie Wiles has made a career out of manipulating microbes and heads up the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland. Her accessible and evidence-led approach about staying safe during the pandemic not only eased the nation’s anxiety, but also became the basis for World Health Organisation communications tools. Having won the Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize, the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s Callaghan Medal, and published “Antibiotic Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine?” She was then appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit! With science having been a heavily male dominated field for so long, Siouxsie Wiles proves that women can occupy any space and any field they want.

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Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Nicki Minaj are only some of the famous names that you’ll no doubt recognise. The one you may not? Parris Goebel. Born and raised in Manurewa, Auckland, Parris was interested in dance from a young age and started hip-hop lessons when she was 10 years old, turning a passion into a business by starting her own dance studio ‘ReQuest’ in Penrose. Her work has included choreographing routines and starring in music videos and movies, leading her to now run now a MasterClass in Creativity in Choreography on the streaming platform. She was also tasked with helping create Rihanna’s show at New York Fashion Week, Choreograph Jennfier Lopez’s Superbowl half-time show, and finished 2020 by adding Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit to her long list of accomplishments.

At a grassroots level, her work with her sisters Kendal and Narelle and their organisaiton ‘Sisters United’ is now in 16 New Zealand high schools. ““The girls need to feel like they’re not sitting around talking about their feelings. They want to feel like they’re organically expressing themselves. When they’re dancing, they’re not thinking deeply about what they’ve been through, and their issues. They’re focused on confidence and self-love”.

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In her career as a diplomat and civil servant, Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i​ was repeatedly mistaken for someone’s daughter or the boss’ housekeeper, despite being the woman in charge.

The Kiwi-born, Samoan-Fijian professional has regularly faced what she describes as unconscious bias in the workplace because of her age, gender, and race.

Over the years, she has had to regularly defend her position, even though she has represented New Zealand on the diplomatic stage twice in Taiwan and once in Fiji, and also held senior jobs in the civil service in Wellington.

This is a common occurrence for women in positions of power, in which many will assume they aren’t the person in charge as they often haven’t been in the past. Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i​ challenges the typical power dynamic and has spent her career and personal life pushing for Pacific people to be encouraged and recognised, especially Pacific women trying to carve out professional careers. A large concern is the lack of Maori and Pacific people in leadership positions, which is something that the Comms Council is dedicated to changing in the advertising industry through our I&D Committee.

“I am a leader in my family and my community. I thought, ‘Why is it always me that has to change? Why can’t the organisation change a bit as well?’ . . . I thought, ‘Won’t I just be given the chance to show my skills because I’m highly qualified and competent?’ . . I spent years trying to change myself to fit the mould. That was before I realised the power in breaking it,’’ she says.

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Aigagalefili Fepulea’i Tapua’i is a 17 year old powerhouse showcasing the strength of the next generation as well as their incredible smarts. Head girl at Aorere College, co-founder of climate change collective ‘4 Tha Kulture’, an accomplished spoken word poet, and winner of the New Zealand Storytellers competition for her piece Waiting for Water.

This woman to watch is a strong and powerful example for young Pasifika women who strives to use her platform to speak out against the issues she and her community face. One of the important messages she wanted to convey was in regards to her communities continuously negative portrayal in the media during COVID-19. South Auckland was a large topic of conversation when outbreaks happened due to the community making up most of the essential front-line workers, and Aigagalefili wants to change the narrative.

She acknowledges that media attention comes with a sense of responsibility to not only vocalise her experiences, but the stories of those around her. Especially when it comes to curriculum taught in schools as May last year, she wrote a post on Instagram that went viral. It’s an impassioned and moving free-form poem in which she calls out the social inequality her Pasifika community faces: “If education is key, why do our locks keep changing? If knowledge is power, why does it come at a price we can’t afford?”.

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Annika Andresen, (pronounced “any-car”) is a 26-year-old who had never left Aotearoa until she was 19 years old, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to save the planet. Having now travelled to over 17 countries, Annika uses her childhood love for water to teach others about life under the sea through virtual reality. As a Senior Virtual Reality Environmental Educator for BLAKE NZ, Annika shares her passion with thousands of Kiwis, connecting them to their marine environment because as BLAKE NZ states, ‘If we can’t take every child to the ocean, let’s bring the ocean to every child’.

Holding a Master of Architecture degree, where her thesis investigated the role architecture plays on the connection people have with their environment, Annika uses her interests in design, communication, and the aquatic environment to integrate scientific exploration with visual storytelling to enhance knowledge and understanding of the ocean to a broader public consciousness. This insight made her the first ever global scholar winner of the NextGen Global Underwater Explorers Scholarship, giving her the opportunity to represent not only New Zealand, but women in this global industry.

Her advice to all of us who are wanting to be more conscious of their environmental impact is to “remember, we don’t all have to be perfect to make a difference or have an impact. . . Whatever you decide, make it work for you, keep it local, and start small.”