Some people are just born to live a life of controversy, and those people are often activists who will stop at nothing to see their dreams to fruition. After all, when people are very passionate about a cause, they will often see their agenda carried out eventually.
When Catherine was growing up she knew she would be famous one day. She may not have known at that time exactly how famous she would become in later life or for what, But she never expected to be honored by the Queen of England in such a meaningful way…
Catherine was born and raised in Eastbourne, a picturesque suburb located in the Lower Hutt city in the southern North Island of New Zealand. With a modest population of under 5,000 people, Eastbourne was an ideal place to grow up. Along with her three siblings, all in all, Catherine’s former years could be described as perfect.
Having been born during an era where the civil rights movement was in full swing, Catherine was raised by very left-leaning, liberal parents. The whole vibe at home was one of freedom and liberty, and Catherine and her sisters were raised to have an opinion, and a strong one at that…
Catherine had part-time jobs as a kid and was always interested in making some extra cash and bettering her lot in life. When she left college, she enrolled in a teacher’s course and before long had secured a position as a primary school teacher, a job she loved and thrived in.
Not satisfied with the relatively meager salary she was getting from her teaching job, Catherine decided she needed to find some extra work in order to save enough money to be able to go traveling around the world. It was her dream for as long as she could remember to visit far-off lands, having been raised in the relative seclusion of New Zealand…
It may come as little surprise that due to her liberal upbringing Catherine had no issue when she was offered a job at a massage parlor to make some extra cash. She probably knew when she took the job that she would be giving “extras” but she had no problem with that. Besides, the money was too good to be sniffed at.
The title of this slide is a little bit tongue in cheek as Catherine didn’t technically get a promotion at the massage parlor. She did, however, branch out and began selling herself at well-known brothels around New Zealand. She had no moral issue with it and the money was fantastic, even if she was breaking the law…
Catherine Alice Healy soon became a sex workers’ rights activist, the first in New Zealand to gain such popularity. With her years of working as a prostitute, Catherine was well placed to fight for the rights of sex workers, both in New Zealand and around the world.
NZCP stands for the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, an organization which Catherine founded by herself. Her main objective was to fight for the decriminalization of prostitution and generally for the improvement of conditions for workers within the sex industry profession. And to that end, Catherine was just about to make the first big notch on her bedpost…
Catherine’s years of hard work and campaigning finally paid off when, in 2003, prostitution was finally decriminalized in New Zealand following the implementation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003. From there, Catherine Healy’s fame went from strength to strength.
Before long, Catherine had earned herself a name and a reputation. She was loved by as many people as she was hated by but that didn’t bother her in the slightest. When she was invited to address the Oxford Union at the University of Oxford on a discussion about decriminalizing prostitution, she became only the second New Zealander after David Lange to be afforded such an honor…
Catherine’s reputation grew over the coming years exponentially as she gained membership on various boards and committees. She was invited to speak at the House of Commons in the UK and then went on to act as an advisory on issues related to prostitution at a government level.
This activist never thought she would receive such acclaim and honor in her life, especially when she thought back to the old days in the 80s when she was arrested and put in a prison cell for working at a brothel. Years later and Catherine Healy was about be honored by the Queen of England…
Catherine shed more than a few bittersweet tears when Queen Elizabeth honored her personally on her birthday this year. She was thrilled to be appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to the rights of sex workers; something she has worked all of her life towards.
Impossible Becomes Possible
“It could have never happened in our minds,” Catherine told reporters, adding, “It couldn’t have happened in my mind even a couple of weeks ago.” She never thought the stigma surrounding sex workers would be muted during her lifetime and was ecstatic that she was able to play such a major role in helping sex workers and improving their conditions…
“I was very daunted and found it very hard to believe,” Healy said, “You look around and there are many people I admire and you kind of figure out where you fit in society. I did not ever think this was a possibility.” She added, “Back then, I remember reading stories that spoke about us, but journalists never spoke to us. It was just so disrespectful.”
While Catherine couldn’t wait for the day to come when her more liberal views would become mainstream and even the norm, she spoke about how times have changed since the 1980s, “It’s different to think about it today where we are sitting around table as equals with the police and plotting how to make sex work safer and allowing workers to report sexual violence.” she said.
The cause was a righteous one and Catherine had no doubt about that at all. As well as helping sex workers she also campaigned for HIV awareness and spoke about the treatment she felt she and others deserved, “As well as the feeling that we belong in society and we didn’t feel abnormal,” she said. “We didn’t want to be treated the way we were being treated.”
It’s not every day that a person receives an honor from the Queen of England, and Catherine said she was deeply moved by the experience, “I burst into tears,” she said about the moment she was told of the honor. “It was completely unexpected. It doesn’t happen to me, this stuff. A grand dame.”
You Guys Matter!
For Catherine, the Dame honor was a way of gaining acceptance that had eluded her for many decades. She spoke passionately about the recognition, saying, “I just feel like it’s recognition for us all. It’s like: ‘You guys matter. You can come into the fold’.” That was a powerful message for a woman who had dedicated her life to the sex industry.
Catherine Healy is truly a remarkable person, whether or not you agree with her particular standpoint. The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 literally transformed the lives of sex workers, giving them security as well as better pay. Healy’s proudest moment was when she watched from the Parliament gallery as the act scraped through by one vote. She described that as a “magnificent, incredible moment.”