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  • Antonia Quinn

Opinion: He wāhine, he whenua e ngaro ai te tangata

TW: This opinion article discusses abortion.

Artwork by Jhaymeān Terekia

The state of the Western world has had some unprecedented and rather backwards political stances over the past few months. You've seen it plastered all over your social media that millions of women in the US have lost the constitutional right to abortion. The politics of AmeriKKKa affects the world - including Aotearoa, no matter what Christopher Luxon might say about how Roe v. Wade is "not an NZ issue." So much of the Western world is displayed before us in real time through social media. Because of this instant accessibility, harmful misinformation can spread and influence younger audiences. If a hangareka like this fulla can buy into the minds of young males in Aotearoa and dictate his trash views on women and how they should be “treated”, is it so far-fetched that US views on abortion rights can find a foothold here? Will our own kawanatanga be stained by this American influence? Will we grow afraid of talking about abortions and sexual health? Will our future tamariki have to fight for this again? It wasn’t until two years ago that the New Zealand Government removed abortion from the Crimes Act 1961, with the passing of the Abortion Legislation Act 2020. Ipsos polling shows 77% of New Zealanders support the right to terminate a pregnancy in some or any circumstances. But Gallup polling shows 67% of Americans support that same right. So it doesn’t take being a conspiracy theorist to ask, “Could it happen here?”


Abortions aren’t a form of contraception, they’re a reality of contraception. In this day and age, the influence of these outdated (mandated if you will) agendas that smother our social media feeds can really make us think about what kind of world our tūpuna lived in and the wāhine before us.


Our wāhine are always the ones leading the charge to fight for our rights. For our culture. Kura kaupapa. Te reo Māori. The colourful history between wāhine and the Government has birthed the Aotearoa we share today. Kate Sheppard fought for women’s rights and gave wahine over the age of 21 the right to vote in 1893. Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia took it a step further and vocalised the strength for wāhine voice in parliament as well.


Dame Whina Cooper fought for Māori Land Rights in 1975.


Class of 2021 Grad from Te Herenga Waka, Mia Faiumu organised a women’s rights protest in 2017 against rape culture and sexism going around in Wellington high schools. We have many raruraru. The fight of racism, the fight of religious views, political views, land rights, gender inequality, homophobia, e hika mā we even once fought over the shortage of toilet paper! And yet, after all this fighting, the taboo around abortion rights and autonomy rights of wāhine is still a hot commodity. Governments display a paru as colonial chokehold over something that does not physically or personally belong to them. Wāhine are tired of fighting for their right to bodily autonomy. Many American women don’t have the luxury of abortion accessibility like us. They have to cross borders and sometimes risk their lives. The definition of pro-life and pro-choice seem to have lost it’s mana. They shouldn’t have to contradict each other.

It is a taonga to give life and give birth. But at this moment in time, those of us who can become hapū (wāhine, tāne, takatāpui, regardless of gender/sexuality preference) deserve to share this hononga on our terms and when we are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually ready to take this journey if we choose.

The proverb “He wāhine, he whenua, e ngaro ai te tangata” can be loosely translated as “by women and land, men are lost.” It illustrates the nourishing qualities that women and the land have in common, and without it, the survival of humanity is in jeopardy.

University of Waikato Lecturer, Annie Mikaere, examines the interrelationship between man and woman in Te Ao Māori pre-colonisation, and states in this essay that “both men and women were essential parts in the collective whole that formed part of the whakapapa that linked Māori people back to the beginning of the world.”


“Women in particular played a key role in linking the past with the present and future.”


A key figure in Te Ao Māori (duh!) is Papatūānuku. The personification of the Earth herself. It’s quite fitting that the Earth and the Mother are providers of life and yet politics have begun to stain a sacred part of anyone’s life- the beginning. Abortion is a big deal. A VERY big deal. But it shouldn't be so highly ranked in the political sphere if the politics of it does more harm than protect those involved. It really is a taonga to give life, and the Government should do its part to nurture these lives otherwise we will all be lost.




Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.