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Waikato Women in Education

1982 – 1990

This essay written by Jane Furness was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

Waikato Women in Education (WWIE) brought together women from all education sectors, providing support for women educators and promoting equal opportunities for women and girls.

WWIE was established in Hamilton in 1982, in a climate of liberal unrest. Women teachers were concerned about cuts in government spending and, in particular, about their effects on the education of girls and the position of women as teachers and administrators within the education system. These concerns were fuelled by the axing of the National Advisory Committee on Women and Education and the position of Education Officer (Women) in the Department of Education; both had been established only three years before, in 1979.

An earlier Waikato group, Feminist Teachers, provided the nucleus of a new, more broadly based organisation, calling a meeting of women educators at which concerns were shared. WWIE began with 50 members and a committee representing all sectors of education in the Waikato, including the university. By 1986 membership had grown to around 200, and a sub-branch was established in Matamata.

The organisation raised public awareness about its concerns through letters to newspapers, public meetings, networking with other organisations and lobbying MPs. As well, it responded to women teachers' needs to develop personal efficacy, by organising seminars on leadership skills, assertive communication, and stress management, at a time when these were not being offered elsewhere.

The 1984 general election brought a change of government and a new Minister of Education. WWIE members considered that their actions had had some influence when the Women's Advisory Committee on Education (WACE) was set up, and three new advisory positions were established within the department to strengthen perspectives on the education of girls and women, and help women to network effectively.

From 1984 WWIE broadened its focus, and was also able to employ a part-time executive officer, funded from members' contributions. In 1985 WWIE provided the local organisation for the first PPTA Women's Conference, and in 1986 it organised a Women in Unions seminar, in conjunction with the teacher unions. It also presented submissions on a number of issues affecting women, and in 1986 produced the booklet Alternatives to Corporal Punishment.

While WWIE continued to produce newsletters for its members, run seminars on a range of topics and network with other organisations, from 1987 interest in the organisation gradually declined. Early committee members had undergone career or other life changes, or were now active in their unions. Many acknowledged that WWIE's support was important, and in some cases instrumental, in these changes. Women who helped shape WWIE, such as Shirley Smith and Jane Ritchie, were strong role models for others, whose skills and talents were nurtured within the supportive, non-hierarchical framework of the organisation. There was also a perception that the organisation was no longer needed, because its original aims had either been met or were being worked toward. In 1990, WWIE went into recess.

Jane Furness

Unpublished sources

Furness, Jane, 'The Life Cycle of an Organisation: An Ecological View of Waikato Women in Education', unpublished paper, University of Waikato, 1991

Waikato Women in Education records, 1982–1990, in possession of Jane Furness, Cambridge

Waikato Women in Education collection, 1982–1990, Centre for Women's Studies, University of Waikato, Hamilton

Published sources

Watson, Helen, 'The Impact of the Second Wave of the Women's Movement on Policies and Practices in Schools', in Sue Middleton (ed.), Women and Education in Aotearoa, Allen & Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, Wellington, 1988, pp. 97–113