Empowering women and girls is an issue close to the heart of former Rodney police officer Janet Hope. As a long-time member of Zonta, she has attended international conventions, fundraised for projects around the world and was the District 16 Governor (NZ) from 2016 to 2018. She says she was fortunate to have a mother who didn’t see gender as an obstacle the day she decided to join what was then a very male-dominated NZ police …
I’d met a couple of police officers while working in Hamilton and it seemed like a job with variety and challenges. I liked the idea that you could go to work in the morning and not know what you would be dealing with. It also offered equal pay for equal work, so I applied after three years travelling around Australia. Basic training was at the old Trentham military base and, of the 108 recruits in my wing, 15 were women. We started in August, and I remember it being cold and miserable.
My first posting was to the busy Newmarket station where we covered a variety of communities, from Remuera to Onehunga and Glen Innes. I was fortunate to have a sergeant who was fair and gave me the same opportunities as my male colleagues, but that wasn’t necessarily the experience of other women officers. In those days, our uniforms weren’t very practical. We were issued with skirts and handbags, with no belts for equipment or anything like that. I can remember my handcuffs falling out of my pocket on more than one occasion. If we were chasing a suspect and came to a fence, it was just a matter of hoiking up the skirt and carrying on and ignoring the looks from your male colleagues. We have the 1981 Springbok tour to thank for finally getting boots, trousers and utility belts.
During the tour, police were deployed to centres around New Zealand. We could find ourselves being bussed to Whenuapai air base at 3am and not returning until 2am the next day. It built a real sense of camaraderie in the police teams involved. There was a lot of hostility and it was often directed at us.
Among the protesters there were those who genuinely held anti-apartheid beliefs and then there were others who were just looking for a scrap. At one rally, I came face-to-face with one of my cousins.
As a sergeant based at Auckland Central, I worked with the first line response team. Although we were often in volatile situations, I don’t remember ever really feeling scared or threatened. Again, I was lucky to be part of a good team with a great supervisor, who became a mentor and a friend. It was 1987, and I was one of only nine sergeants nationally. I was promoted to the rank of senior sergeant in 1992, based at the watch-house in Auckland Central. This involved auditing everyone who was coming in and going out, overseeing the arrests and checking that the right charges were laid against the right people.
There was a real over-crowding problem at the prisons, and we ended up with a big remand prisoner population. They were looked after by jailers, but it meant we didn’t have many empty cells. I also worked in the prosecution’s office for a while. I’m not a natural public speaker, so it was an interesting experience when, on the odd occasion, I had to present a case in court. From there I went to the control room, overseeing all the radio channels, making sure the right resources were sent to the right places. It’s a place where you feel very connected with what’s happening on the street.
By the time the Martin Review into police administration and management structures was released in 1998, I was an inspector in the communications centre. We were required to reapply for our jobs and I just decided not to. Instead, I became the operations manager for the Bay of Plenty, based in Rotorua.
I spent three years in the role and was involved in planning for Y2K or the Millennium Bug. When the new century arrived, I was sitting in the operations centre waiting for the world to end and, of course, nothing happened. By 2am we started standing staff down, confident that the havoc that had been predicted was not going to happen. I was also involved in the annual Cannabis Recovery Operation, which involved identifying plantations by air, then sending in teams to destroy the crops. You could smell the marijuana before you saw it and a lot of care was taken to avoid nasty spring-loaded booby traps. If the male officers on my team had a problem with a woman being in charge, they never made it obvious. But I do remember once attending a meeting in Hamilton to talk about the operation where the old stereotypes were still evident. I was not in uniform and was waiting in line to get a cup of tea. The officer behind me asked if I was there to take the minutes. I have to say, there was a certain satisfaction in being able to reply, “No, I’m running the operation.”
My last police role was as the Rodney Area Commander, based in Orewa. It was an enjoyable nine years, which involved working a lot in the community. There were opportunities to meet with individuals or groups who were feeling disgruntled, let them voice their grievances and then work together. Just the fact that they felt listened to made a difference. I brought on more women staff, which gave the teams more balance and, as a result, they were able to respond with more empathy. During 11 months as the acting Waitemata District Commander, I was involved in a pilot programme for women in leadership. There was some resistance among women officers to the idea of a programme for women only, but eventually the participants could see the benefits of having peer group support.
When I retired, I finally finished a Bachelor of Business Studies that I’d been doing part-time on and off for about 20 years. Retirement has given me the freedom to travel to Zonta conventions in Italy, Melbourne, the US, Nice and Yokohama, and I’ve made several trips to South America. Five years ago, I spent 11 days in Antarctica, which was a truly amazing experience.
Zonta is an international service organisation that advocates for equality, education and an end to child marriage and gender-based violence. We believe in empowering women through service and advocacy, and I joined the Hibiscus Coast club because I wanted to give back to the community. On international projects, we often partner with the United Nations. We’ve helped fund health and education opportunities for girls in Peru, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, and in Madagascar we’ve upskilled teachers, built latrines and given grants to mothers based on the attendance of their children at school.
On a local level, on White Ribbon day, and as part of the Zonta Says NO to Violence campaign, the Coast club has teamed up with White Ribbon Ambassadors to provide women in violent relationships with information about the services they can access. We also provide scholarships to help young women pursue careers in fields that are still male-dominated. Although the grants that come with these awards are obviously appreciated, sometimes the recognition is even more important to the girls as it boosts their confidence. I’ve recently been appointed chair of the international Young Women in Public Affairs Committee, which will involve assessing candidates from around the world and making scholarship recommendations to the International Board. I am very impressed by the young women we see applying. It’s as if they don’t have ‘no’ in their vocabulary – they are so poised and confident. As someone who likes to plan and travel, I’ve found these Covid-19 times fairly unsettling. But one thing I am very optimistic about is the future of young Kiwi women. When I meet them at school award ceremonies, listen to them speak and hear their goals, then it gives me real confidence that we are in good hands. They will be the change-makers of tomorrow.
For information about Zonta or to contact your local club, visit zonta.org.nz. There are special discounts for young professional women aged under 30 years.