Honours should reflect and recognise community

Philippa Laufiso, of Dunedin, with Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, after being presented with...
Philippa Laufiso, of Dunedin, with Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro, after being presented with the MNZM for services to arts and the community earlier this month. PHOTO: GOVERNMENT HOUSE
Ahead of next week’s King’s Birthday honours list, Cabinet minister Louise Upston writes about  the importance of recognising people.

It was 140 years ago that New Zealand honoured its first woman, Miss Annie Alice Crisp, Lady Superintendent of Auckland Hospital, with the Royal Red Cross on April 19, 1884.

She was awarded the Royal Red Cross in a ceremony at Government House in Auckland, attended by more than 600 people. Established the previous year by Queen Victoria to recognise "special devotion and competency ... in their nursing duties with our Army in the field, or in our naval and military hospitals", the decoration was conferred exclusively on women until 1976. Crisp had served with distinction in the Zulu and Anglo-Egyptian Wars and been awarded the Egyptian medal and the Khedive’s Star. Annie was clearly an exceptional woman.

Since then, we have seen more and more women be nominated for their unwavering contribution to their communities.

However, I believe there are more hidden gems out there waiting to be recognised for their commitment to the country. Nominations for the New Year Honours list should be submitted to the Honours Unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet before mid-June.

As acting Minister for Women, and Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, I am always in awe learning about the incredible people that serve New Zealand. We have an abundance of talent, work ethic and compassion that makes our country great, and the honours system is a fantastic opportunity to bring this to light.

Twice a year honours lists celebrating extraordinary New Zealanders and their achievements are announced, and in the last five years we have seen women recipients account for around half of those lists. It’s a nod to the key role women play across our communities and in the fabric of our society.

As our honours system has evolved, what we have seen in recent years is a real increase in the recognition of people doing extraordinary things across our local community, charity, and voluntary sectors.

About 800 to 1000 nominations are considered each year, and it is a great opportunity to celebrate all the wonderful New Zealanders from all over the country who are serving their communities and achieving something special. Without nominations received from the public, many of our backroom heroes — the people who go into their communities, get involved with organisations and charities, and give back to other people — wouldn’t be celebrated in the way they deserve.

This year’s list of New Year Honours recipients, for example, recognised 74 women out of 151 recipients. In addition to highlighting the work of women in services to sport, education, the arts, health, and business, it also highlighted the work some women have done supporting other women, including in governance, helping survivors of domestic violence, and addressing the gender pay gap.

We probably all know someone who has been exceptional and made a positive impact in their community. Let’s shine some light their way and celebrate them.

By increasing the number of individuals nominated for these awards, not only do we recognise their efforts, but we can also improve the diversity of the awards, particularly when it comes to gender representation, and ensure that they reflect New Zealand communities.

— Louise Upston is the Minister of Community and Voluntary Sector, Disability Issues, Social Development and Child Poverty Reduction.