This year a record number of five Kiwi-Indian women are standing in local elections in Auckland.

Local elections decide who is on your local council, regional council, district health board, and other important organisations such as licensing trust in your area.

Among the five Kiwi-Indian women standing this year for local elections, two are standing for community boards, two for District Health Boards and one for licensing trust. 

Indeed, the numbers are still less than the national average of women candidates in local elections. In 2016, there were 35 per cent women in community boards, and 35 per cent in trusts and 44 per cent in District Health Boards, where as opposed to this, this year of all the Kiwi-Indians in the fray for local elections, only 20 per cent are women.

However, this is still a greater number of women candidates throwing their hats in the ring than in any previous occasion.

Clearly, Kiwi-Indian women are coming of age politically.

They already dominate and enjoy major share of representation in the national parliament where a whopping 66 per cent Kiwi-Indian MPs are women and are now gearing up to stand in local elections. It is noteworthy that two MPs are women out of a total of three Kiwi-Indian MPs in the current parliament.

The Indian Weekender spoke with them about their aspirations and vision in local politics along with their thoughts about their Kiwi-Indian heritage.

Ella Kumar, Candidate for Puketapapa Local Board

Ella Kumar is probably the most seasoned and experienced voice among all women standing in local elections this year as stands for a fourth term for the Puketapapa Local Board. She first got elected in 2010 and has been successfully getting elected since then. 

She is a New Zealand born Kiwi-Indian who has lived in Mt Roskill for more than two decades, attending local schools and working and having worked as a tutor at Mt Roskill Community Education for twenty-nine years. Currently, she enjoys her passion of teaching aerobics at the local gyms and educating the broader community of the benefits of living healthier lifestyles. She also has a post-graduate certificate in Health Science. 

IWK: Please tell us more about yourself… 

Ella: I am standing for the Puketapapa Local Board for a fourth term and want to continue to represent all community voices.

I am for thirty-three years to a supportive husband. We have three children who attended the Mt Roskill Campus schools, where I was also on the Board of Trustees for 21 years. I am a marriage celebrant and a Justice of the Peace since 2007.

IWK: What is your inspiration to stand for local elections/public life? 

Ella: The local boards need the reflection of our communities; our diverse communities need to be represented. 

I strongly believe that we need to enhance our community representation without having any form of personal political outcomes. 

I am a strong advocate for a world-class Auckland transport (including all types of transport, cars, trains, buses & bikes), vibrant town centre and safer neighbourhoods, better community facilities and playgrounds for our children, wise spending of our rates money, along with a better consultation processes so as to include all possible ideas for development. 

IWK: What are your thoughts about your Indian heritage? 

Ella: Although I was born in New Zealand, but both my mum and dad are from Gujarat and Mumbai, (my grandfather had migrated to NZ 1920), so I am deeply connected with my Indian heritage. I cherish this richness, and I feel blessed my parents bought me up with the Indian -heritage.

I believe you are who you are and the best you can do is embrace this, learn and educate others around you so they appreciate and never try to hide from the person you are. 

IWK: What have you been able to achieve so far in the past nine years as Puketapapa Local Board member 

Ella: During the last nine years on Local Board, I have held portfolios related to events, arts and culture, library, sport and recreation, economic development. I strongly believe and have achieved holding onto this action-focused, fair outcomes, deliver for all residents.

I have been able to represent diverse needs in decision making, and the good thing is that it was not just for Indian but for many other ethnicities as most diverse needs have similarities in different cultures.

Baljit Kaur Pannu, Candidate for Franklin Local Board

IWK: Please tell us more about yourself… 

Baljit: I work as a medical underwriter for health Insurance and had been in this job from the last 15 years after first starting as a claims approval consultant. 

Earlier, I also worked in the aged care facility before starting this job. 

IWK: What is your inspiration to stand for local elections/public life? 

Baljit: I am passionate about social issues, particularly about improving access for avenues that facilitate a better life for everyone. I am also an elected member of the Labour women council. 

I live in Pokeno (Franklin Board) and am committed with a desire to improve lives of residents in the Pukekohe subdivision, which is already witnessing a substantial demographic shift with more and more Aucklanders choosing to live and work in the area. 

I am standing for this position as I wish to bring about an accurate representation of the community living in Pukekohe. The present local board lacks diversity, and I want to add new perspectives in decision-making that would benefit all in the community.

IWK: What are your thoughts about your Indian heritage? 

Baljit: I am proud of my Indian origins and of my Sikh faith. I always remember my grassroots. I migrated to New Zealand over fifteen years ago from the Indian state of Punjab. 

It is an amazing feeling to represent my community in NZ. The love and support I received from Punjabi Indian community are overwhelming, and I would like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for their continuous support.

Nivedita Sharma Vij, Candidate for Howick Local Board and Counties Manukau District Health Board

Nivedita is a New Zealand registered health professional with a total of 24 years' healthcare experience, who adorns many hats: mother, volunteer, community leader, and advocate for improved health care for all.

She is a master trainer with a postgraduate qualification in nutrition and dietetics from Stanford University. She had previously stood for Counties Manukau District Health Board in 2016.

IWK: Please tell us more about yourself…

Nivedita: I am married for more than two decades and blessed with two gorgeous children and a loving husband, Vivek.

I am trained Dietician from India. I have worked as Tamaki PHO nutrition consultant, diabetes and heart health educator, lifestyle and nutrition tutor for Mangere Budgeting Services Trust and Diabetes Education Trainer at Auckland DHB.

Currently, I am working as Lead Clinical Health Coach in CMDHB.

I have always been active within our communities, trying to make a positive difference in people's everyday lives.  I am also Founder and Co-director of Muskaan Care Trust – a non-profit organisation seeking to build a partnership between ethnic communities and mainstream service providers.

IWK: What is your inspiration to stand for local elections/public life?

Nivedita: I am a firm believer of Gandhi's saying that "You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results." I fundamentally believe in the power of people to transform their lives, as long as they do not stop taking actions.

I am standing for a safer neighbourhood, careful spending of ratepayer money; greater accountability of Auckland Transport, improved parks, recreation and wellness facilities; and championing the preservation of Botany's unique environment.

IWK: What are your thoughts about your Indian heritage?

Nivedita: We migrated to New Zealand in 2002, and this has been our home since then. However, I was born and raised in Punjab and started my work life back in India, working as a dietician for many reputed government institutions.

I am a proud Indian and Kiwi, as India gave me the start to a life that I'm immensely proud of and NZ is my Karmabhoomi (land of action). Diversity, respect, tolerance and fairness towards one and all are values that are also a part of my Indian heritage and are something that aligns perfectly with my Kiwi values and way of life in NZ.

Shefali Mehta, QSM, Candidate for the Portage Licensing Trust

Shefali Mehta is a community worker who served the community since 1987, she has served the communities in India, Fiji, East Africa, Papua New Guinea and then in New Zealand.  She is a Justice of Peace, a Rotary member and for her services to the Indian community in New Zealand, she was presented with the Queen Service Medal in 2016.

This year she is standing as a candidate for the Portage Licensing Trust.

IWK: Please tell us more about yourself...

I am local and experienced. I live in Waterview with my husband and children and value my community. I’m energetic, enthusiastic, hardworking and offer a deep understanding of our community together with management skills as an accountant and I enjoy my roles as a JP and Rotary member.

IWK: What is your inspiration to stand for local elections/public life? 

Shefali: The future of the Trust is very important. It creates a significant opportunity to provide a way of integrating community activities and helping define our West Auckland Culture.

I’ll be a strong voice and strive for more money to be returned to the community to support health, education, sports and arts.

My focus is on supporting a transparent Trust model that ensures a safe and prosperous community, minimising alcohol harm while providing quality retail and hospitality venues, and giving back to our community to make it strong and healthy.

IWK: What are your thoughts about your Indian heritage? 

I am a proud Kiwi Indian, I respect and appreciate family values of different ethnicities and that is why I am asking your vote.

Anita Keestra, Candidate for Counties Manukau District Health Board

Anita is of Fiji-Indian descent and a long term resident of Papatoetoe/Manukau. She serves her South Auckland community as a Justice of Peace and by being actively involved in various Health and Wellbeing Advisory groups.

She has been a member of Auckland Council’s Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel for the last two terms.

She was also a past President of life vision society which distributes food and basic necessities to the underprivileged.

IWK: Please tell us more about yourself… 

Anita: In terms of qualification, I hold an MBA degree, B. Ed and served many years in governance, strategic and business leadership roles.

I have held various senior management roles such as a lecturer, Business Development Manager, owned and managed my business, played the role of community Economic Development Manager and I am also an active member of the Labour Party.

I have two sons, one at Auckland University Medical School and other studying Genetics at Otago University.

IWK: What is your inspiration to stand for local elections/public life? 

Anita: My vision is to remove disparities in current healthcare services, ensuring accessibility, fairness and service equality to the multicultural and diverse population, including Maori and Pacific People. 

I am passionate and committed to empowering women who are victims of domestic violence and are at greater risk of mental health problems. I believe that we need a strong, fresh and experienced leadership in the Counties Manukau District Health Board. I am confident to bring immense experience and knowledge to the role.