In September 2000, hundreds of female volunteers descended on a Habitat for Humanity construction site in Auckland to complete a New Zealand first feat.
The Women Build event was the first time that Habitat had built one or more homes with an entirely all-female team. Everything from the architectural design, drain laying, building, carpet laying, and painting was completed by female tradespeople and willing volunteers. The only exception was the electrical work; it’s reported that there was only one female electrician in New Zealand in 2000 and she was unable to attend the event. An ‘honorary woman’ was anointed to complete the wiring work.
A few volunteers came from further afield. A group of 17 ladies from the United States formed a Global Village group and travelled to New Zealand to participate in the build. One American volunteer from Connecticut said the chance to go to New Zealand was one she could not pass up.
When speaking to the NZ Herald in 2000, Anne Taylor, the event’s construction coordinator and New Zealand’s first female registered Master Builder, said that the build was a significant step because women were still isolated in the building trade.
“I think the first thing we have to realise is that we have a right to be in the trade. This gives permission for women to be here,” said Anne.
She said there was a real need for the housing being built.
“It’s about families being able to bring up children in a decent environment. It’s also about self-empowerment. It’s self-empowerment for the volunteers … for the women in trades … and for the families who buy the house.”
The Women Builds in New Zealand were not without visits from many famous female faces. The Right Honorable Helen Clark, the country’s Prime Minister at the time, visited the site in the early days of construction to meet the volunteers, twist in the first screw of one home, and write an encouraging message on an interior wall. Sarah Ulmer, former Olympic cyclist and gold medal winner, and Jools and Lynda Topp, also known as the country music singing duo the Topp Twins, also supported the event with appearances.
The Women Build event completed two homes that were then mortgaged to local families interest-free. One family with two children spoke to the NZ Herald during the build.
“I was so happy to get this opportunity,” said the family’s spokesperson. “It’s very important for my kids. It’s for my kids’ future.”
Over the past 30 years, Habitat in New Zealand has helped hundreds of families across the country access the safety and security that a permanent home offers and we’ll be around for future decades to making the same impact on generations.