Dame Miriam Dell, born 1924, has been at the forefront of women’s issues in New Zealand and internationally for more than three decades, promoting women’s advancement and equal rights in society. Her focus has been on creating the capacity for and instigating the confidence in women to freely make their own choices, use their talents, and challenge themselves. Over the years, she has contributed significantly to the progress and representation of women within the law in New Zealand and has constantly encouraged women to participate constructively in decision making and social actions. She has had a full time commitment to voluntary community activities, public appointments, and addressing issues across a wide spectrum, and has served on a wide variety of government, community, welfare, and United Nations (UN) organisations.
Her commitment to women’s issues started with the Association of Anglican Women, where she was a Member of the Young Wife’s Group of the Anglican Mother’s Union. During this time, she joined the National Council of Women (NCW), through which she became very active, exerting her passion in campaigning for women’s rights.
She was a Founding Member and Past President of the Hutt Valley Branch of the NCW and a Member of the national body of NCW. After exhibiting a natural flair for leadership, she was elected National President of the NCW, a position she held from 1970 to 1974. She was later elected as President of the International Council of Women, the first New Zealander to achieve this distinction, and remained in office from 1979 to 1986. In her role, she travelled extensively to 64 member countries, gaining a global perspective on women’s issues, and was involved with the International Council of Women’s Third World Development Programme, which she remained in charge of until 1991. She also organised the International Council of Women 1988 Centennial Celebrations in Washington, D.C. in the United States of America.
Dame Miriam was the New Zealand Government Delegate to all three UN Conferences during the decade for women in the 1970s, enabling her to influence many UN agencies with her passion for and dedication to equity for women.
In 1971, she was the only woman involved with the Committee of Inquiry Into Equal Pay where she was instrumental in helping to establish notable legislative changes in New Zealand, such as equal consideration for jury service, equal citizenship rights, matrimonial property sharing, equitable marriage dissolution provision, and maternity and parental leave. She was also the only women on the National Development Council from 1969 to 1974. Whilst she was a Member of the Council, she established a subcommittee examining the role of women in national development, which later evolved into the Committee on Women, the forerunner to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. During her time as Chairperson of the committee (from 1974 to 1981), she instigated the women’s appointment file, enabling government agencies to choose from a selection of women, as well as men, when filling job vacancies in the public sector. In addition, she was the Co-ordinator for the landmark International Women’s Year in 1975, which subsequently led to an increase of respect towards women in local communities, as well as enhancing the overall reputation of women worldwide.
Dame Miriam was Chairperson of the 1993 Suffrage Centennial Year Trust and also served on the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, including the National Committee for UNESCO. She has also been involved with the Social Security Appeal Authority, International Year of the Child, and the Advisory Committee on Women and Education. In addition, she was involved in the Inter-Church Council of Public Affairs from 1981 to 1986, was a Member of the Marriage Guidance Council of New Zealand National Executive from 1971 to 1976, the Pan-Pacific and South Asia Women’s Association, and the New Zealand Federation of University Women.
Dame Miriam has written many articles and papers for journals, seminars, select committees, and Royal Commission submissions, including the The Role of Women in National Development in 1974, and in 1976, she was awarded the Adele Ristori Prize.