League strengths highlighted

Maori women must leverage the proud legacy of the Maori Women's Welfare League to have an influence on the top levels of the social and political agenda, president Kataraina O'Brien says.

She told the league's national conference in Blenheim on Friday that since 1951, the league had served and created many women leaders who had given outstanding service to family, hapu, iwi, marae, ministers, and the country.

"We have a proud legacy. We must not lose that. We must leverage it wisely to bring the league back to our rightful place at the decision-making table."

She said that for the league to get back to that table, members must work together on issues.

"The Christchurch earthquakes, economic climate, endemic poverty of our mokopuna without kai, shelter, or support - that's what our legacy must bear up to."

As part of that, the organisation would develop a national website that would help members to connect with and help each other.

Area representatives would work to grow branch memberships. The league's constitutional review was under way. The general manager's position, vacant after Jacqui Te Kani's death last month, was being reviewed and would be advertised.

Keynote speaker Dame June Mariu told the conference that the league's strength was its unity.

"Our unity is our strength. Strength amongst ourselves first and then we work with the others that strengthen whatever we are doing and then we help them."

She said she had seen the need to get back to basics. Support for families had to start before children were born, because they could be affected then, and they needed the best possible start.

"It's all about from the womb to the tomb."

Dame June proposed forming a "men's welfare league" to encourage men to take up these issues as well.

"Women and men must work together to progress our young people, our Maori race. We are asking for the total wellbeing of Maori and all of the people in Aotearoa. We've had no problem singing it to the prime ministers of the day."

Kahurangi Dame June said later that the league's work was about making sure families were strong, and people needed to get back to basics. She regretted the expiry of her marriage celebrant's license because marriage was important.

"Being good parents is what it's all about. It's not a one-night stand, it's all about relationships."

She said men needed to look after their women, and teach the boys to respect girls. Girls in turn had to earn that respect.

More than 500 people attended the conference, which ended yesterday. Several MPs - including Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, and Labour MPs Nanaia Mahuta and Louisa Wall - were there on Friday, and leaders from "kindred" organisations Age Concern, Rural Women NZ, Women's Institute, National Council of Women, and Pasifika also attended.

The Maori Women's Welfare League was formed in 1951, and has eight branches and about 3000 members nationally.

The Marlborough Express