ADDRESS BY HELEN CLARK TO NEW ZEALAND FEDERATION OF COUNTRY WOMEN'S INSTITUTES
WELLINGTON TOWN HALL
MONDAY, 24 JULY 2000
Thank you for the invitation to officially open your biennial conference this evening.
It is a particular pleasure to open the conference because of the very long association my family has had with the
Country Women’s Institutes.
My great grandmother used to walk around three miles to the Institute meetings, so much did the movement mean to her.
My grandmother also was a foundation member of her local branch in Te Pahu in the Waikato. She used to go to the
meetings on horseback with her youngest child. The meetings involved a day out and members took their lunches.
In those days of bad roads and poor communications, women on isolated farms had little contact with other women. It is
fair to say that they lived for those Women’s Institute meetings and the contact and friendship the meetings made
possible with other women.
My mother, who is here tonight, has been a member of Country Women’s Institute for half a century. Mum has been a
regular office holder in the Institute and a full participant in its activities, including being a delegate to the
national conference on at least five occasions. She often starred in its dramatic productions in Te Pahu.
For my mother, like my grandmother, the monthly Country Women’s Institute meeting was not to be missed.
The Institute continued to be a place to meet other women, hear a speaker, and catch up with what was going on in the
district. It was a means for introducing new settlers in the district to others. And it was also an organisation which
encouraged good works for others.
The Institute’s motto: “For Home and Country” has been enduring. It has supported women in their role as homemakers; it
has fostered cultural and craft activities; and it has encouraged women to participate in community affairs and to take
an interest in all aspects of our national life.
All these aims and activities are of course still relevant in the 21st century. More than ever women are involved in
community affairs, public life, and the workplace, but that does not mean that other aspects of our lives need be
Women take their roles as parents very seriously, and home making is an important part of that.
Then, as Minister of Arts and Culture I also want to give my strong endorsement to the Country Women’s Institute’s
support for arts, cultural, and craft activities. Through them we each can express our creativity and our talent, and/or
our appreciation for the things of beauty others create.
It is interesting that research into how we New Zealanders spend our time outside work finds that more of us spend our
time, actively or passively, engaged with arts, culture, or crafts than we do with sport – yet these are aspects of our
national life which have traditionally been undervalued and not well recognised.
This conference in Millennium Year is the ideal opportunity for the Institute to be looking ahead to the kind of role it
can play in the 21st century.
Your theme: Today, Tomorrow, Together is a forward looking one.
Undoubtedly the Country Women’s Institute and its branches have been affected by trends in rural society. Many fewer
people live on farms these days, and many more women work full time away from the farm and so are identified less with
community activities within their district.
On the other hand, regional New Zealand’s economy is diversifying and bringing new, non-farm families into rural and
small town areas, particularly people engaged in tourism or the visitor industry in some way.
Country Women’s Institute has also for a long time been established in towns and suburbs.
So what of the future?
The community organisations which thrive in the 21st century will be those which adapt to meet the new needs and
interests of their communities. That doesn’t mean changing one’s values, but rather adapting the way things are done to
meet new needs. Only women themselves can define what it is they need from and can contribute to organisations like the
Country Women’s Institute.
I suspect that some of the needs which drove my grandmother to ride her horse to Institute seventy years ago are still
Women at home with small children can feel very isolated. Country Women’s Institute in the 21st century is still there
as a place for friendship and fellowship.
And having established that friendship and fellowship, networks are established which can last a lifetime within
communities, or as women shift to other communities knowing the structure of Country Women’s Institute and what it has
I want to thank Country Women’s Institute tonight particularly for its voluntary work. You have raised money for so many
worthwhile causes – for medical research, for children, for a wide range of charities.
Like so many other charitable and community organisations, your voluntary work helps keep our society ticking.
We all know that governments can do so much – but we can’t do everything. Non-governmental organisations like yours,
provide that extra which really helps – and we thank you for that. You form a vital part of what we call “civil society”
– and it and you are going to have a big role to play in the 21st century.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to say a few words.
I have pleasure in declaring your millennium conference officially open.