11 inspiring New Zealand women share their stories

Be inspired by the stories of these brave, creative and ambitious New Zealand women.

International Women’s Day is held annually on 8 March to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world.

2018 marks the 125th anniversary of when New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant all adult women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The passing of a new Electoral Act in 1893 followed years of effort by suffragettes and temperance campaigners led by Kate Sheppard.

125 years later, New Zealand women are still striving to improve the world for their fellow women  and whanau. We share here a few of our most popular stories about inspiring Kiwi women achieving great things in their chosen fields.


Dr Matire Harwood

Dr Matire Harwood

Matire Harwood has long been a dedicated spokesperson and advocate for the health of Maori and Pacific Islanders. Now the recipient of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science  fellowship, she’s about to become even more vocal.

IN MATIRE’S WORDS: “Maori women in science and medicine are often pulled in all directions, and I needed a way to take control and bring everything back to my primary goal – to use research to achieve equity in New Zealand.”

READ MORE Dr Matire Harwood’s work to improve Maori and Pacific health recognised with L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship


Kristina Cavit

Kristina Cavit

For Kristina Cavit – yoga teacher, mindfulness coach and youth leader – mindfulness means not only paying attention to and nourishing her present, but also that of others.

IN KRISTINA’S WORDS: “There’s an idea that the family you are born into determines your future, but as I was adopted, the support and empowerment I was given shaped my life. I want to be a part of giving that same support to other young people.”

More stories you might like:
My wayward wheels: from mountains to the sea

READ KRISTINA’S STORY HERE The Kindness Institute’s Kristina Cavit on teaching mindfulness and yoga to vulnerable New Zealand teens


Barbara Brinsley

Barbara Brinsley

Dunedin’s Barbara Brinsley is working on a life well spent.

IN BARBARA’S WORDS: “I’m terribly naughty. People say, ‘Have you been good Barbara?’ And I say, ‘Definitely not. Don’t be ridiculous”

READ MORE Dunedin style icon turning heads at 78


Iona Weir

Iona Weir 

A spirited New Zealand biochemist and entrepreneur is finding ways to support women in science on her own home soil.

IN IONA’S WORDS: “An all-woman lab, hell yeah. If you show up in the school holidays, we’re not there, and sometimes the mums bring their kids to the office. It doesn’t affect our work at all, and it’s important to me to make a working environment that’s healthy for female scientists.”

“I eventually realized the only way I was going to be able to have children and keep my career was to form my own company.”

READ MORE IONA HERE Biochemist Iona Weir discovers secrets in New Zealand soil


Sarah Douglas and Bex Hayman

Sarah Douglas and Bex Hayman

From two sprawling high-country stations on either side of the Waitaki River, two young and creative rural ladies are empowering and connecting like-minded women.

IN THEIR WORDS: “The Facebook page encourages other women to share their lives. It’s fun, inspirational and showcases women making the most of rural life. We don’t try to be professional bloggers; we want it to be refreshing and easy to relate to.”

READ SARAH AND BEX’S STORY HERE: New online marketplace supports rural female artisans

More stories you might like:
Easy riding: small kids in a campervan - no problem

Annette Presley

Annette Presley

A long list of charity work and a focus on living a good and healthy life occupies one of the country’s leading business people. Annette Presley shares her insight.

IN ANNETTE’S WORDS: “Young girls have huge possibilities to rule the world, but they don’t seem inspired enough. I love mentoring young women as I see in them a spark waiting to be ignited.”

READ ANNETTE’S STORY:  Annette Presley says ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’

Ruth Pretty

Ruth Pretty’s name is synonymous with having a good time: meet the well-loved caterer who is bringing her special brand of deliciousness to your dinner table.

IN RUTH’S WORDS:  “I’ve had a few disasters over the years,” she laughs, “but I learned quickly that if something goes wrong you have to come up with a solution.

READ MORE ON RUTH: Chef Ruth Pretty on how to host the perfect dinner party


Jing Song

A wine producer is allowing her creative spirit to pop while exploring the Chinese heritage of Central Otago.

IN JING’S WORDS“Some people felt quite shocked with my identity,” says Jing. “I got the cover of WineNZ magazine and people asked, ‘Who is this foreign face who doesn’t know about winemaking?’ It’s sad that in my industry that there aren’t many women or Asian faces – this is something I want to change.”

READ MORE ON JING: How Jing Song is changing the New Zealand wine industry


Carolyn Ferraby

Every vista in this world-class garden, photographed through the seasons, tempts visitors down a path laden with promise. Barewood Garden’s creator shares how she’s grown alongside her garden.

IN CAROLYN’S WORDS: “The garden teaches you, and you grow with it. You might be thinking you are going to achieve something, and the excitement of the promise is there. But nature might show you something quite different.”

More stories you might like:
Biochemist Iona Weir discovers secrets in New Zealand soil

READ MORE ON CAROLYN: What Carolyn Ferraby learned creating Barewood Garden in Marlborough

Vanessa Hayes

Vanessa Hayes, aka the Nut Lady, is on a mission to establish a macadamia industry for Maori on the East Coast

IN VANESSA’S WORDS: “It was something I felt very strongly about because I was one of those landowners receiving barely enough return from maize to cover the rates. I wanted to work with them to gradually start replacing the maize with a long-term sustainable crop that provided employment and better returns.”

READ HER STORY HERE: Maori macadamia industry tough nut to crack

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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