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Zonta Club of Timaru president Jocelyn Savage (left) and National Council of Women president Vanisa Dhiru (right) were on hand to present Mountainview High School pupil Sophia Kopyova (17) with her prize for winning the 125 Suffrage Writing Competition at the two group's joint meeting in late September. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

During the Suffrage 125 celebrations, the South Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Council of Women (NZCA) and Zonta Club of Timaru ran a writing competition for South Canterbury secondary school pupils.

Entrants were tasked with writing about a New Zealand woman who has created positive change.

The competition was won by 17-year-old Mountainview High School pupil Sophia Kopyova, who wrote about former prime minister Helen Clark.

Zonta Club of Timaru president Jocelyn Savage said Miss Kopyova’s entry was a “very accomplished essay” and showed the positive future for women in Aotearoa.

“I think the future is in good hands.”

Her essay follows.


Helen Clark, by Sophia Kopyova

Politics.

The very word brings to mind an onslaught of pre-conditioned expectations.

For me, it instantaneously conjures up images of times when I was younger (I’m aware that at seventeen years old this may seem a little incongruous, but bear with me) and as my mother flicked through channels on television she would momentarily land on some withered white man raving about some issue or the other.

Then the camera would switch to a wide view of a large room with forest green carpet and large wooden desks, and I would discover that no, it was not one white, old, angry man but a room full of white, old, angry men.

To a younger me, one person in the room would stand out among the rest.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, pictured in a scene from Gaylene Preston’s documentary My Year With Helen, is the subject of Sophia Kopyova’s winning essay. PHOTO: NZIFF

Helen Clark was a pillar of change in the stagnating slew of photocopied politicians who seemed to run the country.

For a young girl, nothing could have brought me more joy than the knowledge that the one in charge of all of these white, old, angry men and by extension the country was in fact a woman.

In primary school I did not know much about politics.

The curriculum seemed more concerned that I learnt about pirates instead (the purpose of an eye patch is so they are not blinded while walking out on deck, by the way).

But I knew she smiled and went for visits to countries that weren’t doing so well, and for me that was enough.

Now at the end of high school, I am much more politically inclined.

I have infinite resources at my disposal that educate me on economics and the judiciary system.

I am solid in my beliefs, too solid, some might say.

Historic . . . Timaru women put their names to the 1893 suffrage petition, as shown in this page of the document that has been digitised by Archives New Zealand. PHOTO: Archives New Zealand

So you can imagine my delight when I receive an essay competition from my English teacher about the women’s suffrage.

So here we are.

Five hundred words, they said. A little restricting, but I’m making do. I’m old enough now to research and understand the political ramifications Helen Clark had on New Zealand.

I am old enough to respect that she is the longest serving Labour Party leader.

That all legislative decisions were intrinsically made so as to approach some grand vision.

That she went on to act as an activist for a great many things.

But looking back, that’s not what I know her for.

Because the fact of the matter is, in addition to the sacrifices she made in the best interest of the country, the largest statement she could have made was doing all of these things as a woman.

For all of those little girls who refused to be forced into gender roles brought on by an unending stream of toys centred around fashion and make-up and looking after babies, for those girls who would aspire to be the prime minister or a businesswoman, Helen Clark was a role model.

Because if a girl can be in charge of a country, then all of those little girls watching can do anything.