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IWD23 Celebrations at Parliament

Celebration of Wāhine


In the early hours of Wednesday morning the sound of heels upon the Parliament marble floors rang in International Women’s Day 2023.

Aotearoa being the first to see the sun is also the first nation to celebrate International Women’s Day with a breakfast hosted by the Minister for Women at Parliament.

The Zonta Club of Wellington held the first in-person breakfast celebration since the global pandemic.

360 guests were welcomed onto the Beehive, early morning, including young ladies from high schools across the city, Dames, service men and women, foreign dignitaries, Members of Parliament and activists.


The host for the morning, Hon Jan Tinetti, Minister for Women, shared her key priorities for the economic empowerment, safety and leadership for wāhine across Aoteroa. The Minister reflected on the global theme for the day #EmbraceEquity, and the work the Ministry for Women has been doing to address women’s equity such as the Te Mahere Whai Mahi Wāhine: Women’s Employment Action Plan (2022).


Much progress has been made over the past 130 years since the Electoral Act was passed in 1893 giving women the right to vote in Aotearoa. Today the Minister is a member of a Parliament with 50% women.

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau delivered an inspirational keynote speech punctuated by laughter and applause from the breakfast crowd. The first wāhine Māori Mayor of Wellington, Tory Whanau shared the story of her role models, her grandparents who taught her the value of a strong work ethic. Her grandmother, a hardworking mother who juggled multiple jobs while caring for her family, and her koru an actor and passionate activist. In her leadership journey, Tory was influenced by the resilient women within the halls of Parliament. When Chief of Staff for the Greens, “I put on my armour, my red lipstick, black blazer” – but what Tory found was that being vulnerable gained her a lot of respect from her male counterparts. Tory’s leadership journey has taught her three lessons: change the narrative to have more representation at the table; lead with empathy and ask for help.


Times are changing, and with Mayor Tory Whanau as a role model, the next generation of diverse, women leaders will not fear to take their place at the leadership table with their armour on.

History remembers those who break the rules and for Jessie Wong, she wishes to redefine bad behavior. Inspired by the women in her life, her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, Jessie founded the luxury branch Yu Mei with handbag designs inspired by and named for the rebellious, persistent and brave women in her life.


The Yu Mei team acquired a manufacturer and looked to grow their brand when the global pandemic brought the world and retail market to a hold. But Jessie and her team were unbeaten, working long hours and late nights to set up a virtual lounge to launch their new product to the world. Their bravery, rebelliousness and persistence are the qualities that embody the Yu Mei community resulting in rapid growth of the brand in the three years since.


Jessie and her Yu Mei team redefined bad behaviour by being rebellious, persistent and brave enough to have ambitious goals and create a community of rebellious women, Yu Mei brand holders.

Breaking records and firsts is nothing new to Paula Tesoriero, the first disabled person to lead a public service department, Whaikaha - Ministry for Disabled People, the first of its kind in the world. When introducing herself, Paula opened her inspiring and impactful speech with a description of herself- her height, physical appearance, clothes and position behind the podium, for the benefit of those who couldn’t see her. A valuable reminder to bring everyone along.


The former Paralympian and Disability Rights Commissioner has always worked to achieve better outcomes for the disabled community and continues to challenge us as women to bring everyone together, their whole selves and their whole lives.


It’s up to the nation of Aotearoa to make sure that everyone of diverse abilities fits into our communities.

The breakfast ended with a yellow Zonta rose in hand, and the messages delivered by each keynote speakers ringing in the hearts and minds of the breakfast crowd.



Till next year. Happy International Women’s Day!


A recording of the keynote speeches is available to view on YouTube - www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tudSEmjrfk

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