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MP in training? . . . Roncalli College pupil Phoebe Scarsbrook (centre, in maroon) takes part in Youth Parliament last week. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Greta Yeoman

Timaru teenager Phoebe Scarsbrook had a first-hand encounter with Parliament last week.

One of the final tasks of the Youth MPs during their two-day trip to Parliament last week was to present a speech to their peers. Phoebe Scarsbrook spoke about feminism – and received a standing ovation from the 120 other Youth MPs. The Courier has republished Phoebe’s speech with her permission.

Feminism.

The word that almost seems to be like the elephant in the room or the swear word which is too bad to use.

I am afraid to use it.

I am afraid because if I bring it up in my class, the boys give me unusual looks and tell me “what about us boys, don’t we have rights too?”

I am afraid because if I stand up for myself and for women, I’ll get asked if it’s “that time of the month” and you know what, that has to stop.

Feminism is not a dirty word.

It does not mean you hate men.

It does not mean you hate women.

It means that you believe in equality.

I believe now more than ever before, we need feminism.

Feminism has fought no wars.

It has killed no opponents.

It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practised no cruelties.

Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety in the streets, for child care, for social welfare, for rape crisis centres, for women’s refuges, reforms in the law.

Feminism has done nothing but support women wanting better.

There is so much going on in the world that I cannot believe we are still fighting over.

Take for instance the abortion law.

I cannot even begin to tell you how upset I was to hear 25 white middle-aged men bring in a law and make a decision for women and their bodies.

It’s not like those 25 white middle-aged men can speak from experience of having a uterus, is it?

You know we need feminism.

We need feminism because little girls are told that if a boy hits you it means he likes you, because men shouldn’t be told to “man up”, and we need feminism because a man in a room full of women is ecstatic, but a woman in a room full of men is terrified.

We are lucky in New Zealand that we have laws implemented and institutional mechanisms to promote the advancement of women and gender equality.

We have so many inspiring women to look up to, such as our prime minister, politicians, teachers, mothers, sisters and the list goes on.

This issue is so important to me because I am a feminist.

A feminist is someone who believes in the power of women just as much as they believe in the power of anyone else, and I feel as though we should all have a little bit of feminist in us – because you don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive.

Both men and women should feel free to be strong.

It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum, instead of two opposing ideas.

We should stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are.

So here’s to strong women.

May we know them.

May we raise them, and may we be them.

The year 12 Roncalli College pupil joined 120 of her peers in Wellington for Youth Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, where she represented Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon.

Held every three years, Youth Parliament enables young people chosen by their electorate MPs to learn about the parliamentary system and have their voices heard on a range of issues.

Phoebe (17) said the two-day experience in the Beehive included attending a National Party caucus, where National MPs, including Opposition leader Simon Bridges, showed up.

“It was pretty cool,” she said.

She was one of two South Canterbury Youth MPs at the youth gathering – attending alongside Geraldine’s Jackson Minnear, who represented Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.

Rangitata Labour List MP Jo Luxton was represented by Jessica Timmo, of Ashburton.

Regional representation . . . Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon and his Youth MP Phoebe Scarsbrook were at Youth Parliament last week.

Others tasks included discussing diversity in a schools during a select committee, break-outs and presenting speeches to their peers during a general debate.

Phoebe spoke about feminism during the general debate, something that was potentially a “bit risky” due to some of the mixed responses she received from people when telling them about the topic before presenting her speech.

However, her speech received a standing ovation from the other members of Youth Parliament.

“I wasn’t prepared for the amount of support I got.”

Phoebe’s select committee session was on diversity in schools, which allowed her to “speak from experience” about learning te reo Maori and incorporating te ao Maori (the Maori world view) into school life.

This included discussions around further support for learning te reo Maori in schools, as well as more-in-depth New Zealand history, Phoebe said.

“[So] the good, the bad and the ugly.”

This was particularly timely as Parliament has recently been debating whether the New Zealand Wars need to be taught at school.

Alongside the scheduled official events, Youth Parliament also involved talking to a lot of the other Youth MPs and hearing about things they were involved in, Phoebe said.

One idea she had been inspired by was youth councils.

She now hoped to push restarting a youth council in Timaru.

Phoebe was also working to start up a Zonta Club at Roncalli College.

“I wanted to experience Parliament and come back and do something.

“[I have] lots of ideas now.”