National Council of Women: A Celebrated Collaboration
The Salvation Army has a long and storied connection with the National Council of Women New Zealand, with the Army being a founding member of the council at its inception 126 years ago. Recently, a celebration was held at Territorial Headquarters’ Pollard Hall to commemorate this collaboration, and to highlight progress in The Salvation Army’s own gender equity work.
The National Council of Women (NCW) commenced in New Zealand in 1896 as an umbrella organisation of like-minded groups working for gender equality. Kate Sheppard, a prominent woman in the New Zealand suffrage movement, was tasked with forming a branch of the International Council of Women, off the back of women winning the right to vote in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Early battles for equity for the council included familiar topics for the Army: prison reform, equal pay and ‘the effects of the evils of the traffic of alcohol’. It was said of prison reform at those early meetings that there was a ‘need for a system which would restore or create self-respect, that would develop moral fibre, and would let in the sunshine of hope upon the inmates’—work that The Salvation Army continues to champion to this day through various expressions within the Army, including the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit (SPPU).
Celebration and commemoration
The celebration of The Salvation Army’s work with the council was attended by many women within the Army who have been involved over the years, including Commissioner Astrid Herring, Colonel Wynne Reddish, and Major Christine Rattray who received a certificate of recognition for her 35 years of representation on the council. A ‘high tea’-style lunch was prepared for the guests, who were able to listen and reminisce about the Army’s work within the council.
Commissioner Julie Campbell welcomed everyone and reflected on the impressive work of The Salvation Army in gender equity, with the support of the council as an umbrella organisation. ‘When I look back at the list of those who have been involved, I’m amazed at what our army of women have done throughout the years, and I want to thank God for every one of you. We want to celebrate the great things God has done in and through so many of you, to set the foundation for us as women and as The Salvation Army, to be a voice in our community and to raise the voices and improve the lives of women in our country.’
Strengthening our own mahi (work)
Julie explained that as the NCW has grown and gone through a recent restructure, the Army has had the opportunity to consider its place within the council as contributors to government submissions. A decision has been made to step back from collaboration with the council, to further focus on the Army’s own advocacy work through Women’s Ministries and SPPU. Julie will continue to be connected to the council to understand what is going on at the national level, and some women in the Army will remain members of their local branches of the NCW for the time being.
There was an emphasis at the lunch of celebration and acknowledgement of the hard work and successful advocacy that The Salvation Army had been able to be a part of in collaboration with the NCW. Many of the attendees shared memories of their time on the council, and Major Janee Sawyer shared a short history of the Army’s time in the NCW.
Advocacy and representation
Janee noted that at the beginning of the NCW’s work, ‘the men of the colony were unhappy about the creation of the council’, and newspapers of the time reported on their presence, including The New Zealand Herald and The Evening Post, who also appeared disgruntled at the new work of a women’s organisation. Kate Sheppard said at the time, ‘It is quite possible that it might be said that as the council is composed of women, it should confine itself to women only’. Sheppard had no sympathy for this view, as they were ‘human beings as well as women, and their humanity must take precedence over their womanhood’.
The Salvation Army has been represented on the council by many significant officers over the years, and Janee made time to honour some of them and their contributions to the council’s work. She talked about Lt-Colonel Janie Searle, who was the only national president of NCW to also be a Salvation Army officer and who represented New Zealand on the International Council. She was also credited with a high record of service in a number of NCW branches, due to her moving around the country frequently as an officer. Another notable officer was Lt-Colonel Viola Blincoe, who was celebrated at the council as the first woman to be appointed trade secretary of The Salvation Army, and the following was recorded: ‘For a woman to be promoted to such a position, which was generally considered to be the prerogative of men, is an honour to all women in this country’.
This celebration honoured and recognised the ways in which women in The Salvation Army have been advocating for gender equity across a range of issues within the NCW, with the assurance that this work will continue and strengthen through their own focused advocacy channels.