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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, centre, greets New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Buckingham Palace as she hosts a dinner during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in London on April 19, 2018.
Victoria Jones/Pool Photo/AP

A Former Sex Worker Has Been Made a Dame in Queen's New Zealand Birthday Honours

The list of honours awarded in New Zealand in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday on June 9 have been announced — and it’s been a landmark year for women. 

Among the 192 recipients of the award, which makes them knights and dames, is former sex worker Catherine Healy. 

Healy, 62, reportedly burst into tears when she realised she had been honoured in the list, which was announced on Monday. 

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Healy, who was arrested for working in a brothel in Wellington in the 1980s, has now been recognised for her services for the rights of sex workers. 

She has battled stigma and social exclusion, while consistently campaigning for greater rights and recognition for those working in the sex industry — seeking to make it safer. 

Healy co-founded the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) in 1987.

“We just wanted to be treated like normal people,” she told news website “We wanted to change attitudes, we wanted acceptance. Most of all we wanted to change the law.”

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And her fight to decriminalise sex work was finally won in 2003, when the Prostitution Reform Act was passed in 2003 by just a single vote, reported the Guardian, in a landmark moment for sex workers. 

The NZPC also championed HIV/AIDs prevention, sexual health, and human rights, as well as safeguarding those working in the sex industry. 

“Here we like to have had open and honesty conversations with people from different ideological views," she added.

Healy was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, which she told the Guardian “couldn’t have happened in my mind even a couple of weeks ago.” 

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“I was very daunted and found it very hard to believe,” she added. “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.” 

This year is the first year in which more women than men were recognised on the honours list. 

Others on the list include Pacific issues campaigner Winnie Laban, for her services to education and the Pacific Island community, and chemist and women’s advocates Emeritus Professor Chamian O’Coonor.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern particularly paid tribute to “iconic and incorrigible” Jools and Lynda Topp, reported the New Zealand Herald, after the Topp twins received the honour for services to entertainment.

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“They not only have a wonderful ability to entertain people from all walks of life, but have also been life-long advocates of fairness, equality, and diversity,” she said. 

Ardern also praised Healy for her “decades working behind the scenes to support some of our most vulnerable workers,” and Kristine Bartless, who was named on the list just months after also being named New Zealander of the Year. 

“Kristine paved the way for equal pay, working tirelessly in her unassuming way to make life better for women in the aged care and support sector,” added Ardern. 

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As in the UK, the Queen’s honours are announced in New Zealand twice a year, on the Queen’s birthday and in the new year. 

Queen Elizabeth II is monarch of the UK, and the British overseas territories, as well as Australia and New Zealand, among other nations. 

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