‘We Will Always Speak Up For Animals.’ An interview with AJP Aotearoa NZ Policy President Karen Singleton
Posted on January 18, 2024
In this series of articles May Safely Graze editor Sandra Kyle interviews the leadership team of the newly-registered Animal Justice Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. We continue with Policy President, Karen Singleton.
1 Tell us a bit about yourself and your background, Karen.
I have had the opportunity to have a number of different careers, across 3 countries! Born in the North of England to a meat-eating, working-class family, I was lucky enough to study fashion and work as a designer and a lecturer before giving it all up to live in rural France for almost ten years. I loved learning the language, and teaching others English. I worked for a French software company supporting training and the help desk, which was great fun with my improving French language skills! I moved to New Zealand about 10 years ago and have worked as a civil servant in a number of roles, from Capability building in Emergency Management, to Strategic Policy.
I’ve always been passionate about the environment and living in a harmonious, and sustainable way with animals and the planet. I am filled with a sense of wonder of all the amazing creatures alive today, and a deep sadness for all those extinct today due to human activity.
Simple things bring me pleasure; being in Nature, helping animals and giving rescue cats and chickens a happy home, growing veggies, and always increasing my knowledge so I can help more animals.
2 So you’ve had plenty of experience working in diverse, complex, fast-paced and high-pressure environments. How would you describe your leadership style?
Probably that it is based on relationship building and mentoring. In 2021 I became an online mentor for the Vegan Society 21 day Vegan Challenge. I have a calm nature, a strong work ethic, and a strategic and analytic thinking focus, and I think my leadership models all of this.
3 How has your background helped you to do the job you now do in the AJP?
When I first started volunteering for AJP my former organisational and leadership experience enabled me to apply some structure to the work required, and help the team progress. It was an intensive time, with a heavy workload, and my emergency management experience certainly helped!
Since then I have supported AJP as Head of Comms, my analytical and writing skills helping to identify what we wanted to say and how best to say it – whether on social media, press releases or emails to members.
Strategic thinking has been key throughout, questioning what are we doing, why, and what the impact is we’re trying to create for animals.
My skills enabled me to work collaboratively with a wide range of people, who were strangers at first, but many are now are respected peers and friends.
Understanding leadership, project management and how government works provides a good underpinning for the Policy President role.
4 Did you have any AHA moments that led you to veganism and your work for animals?
I’ve always shared my adult life with other animals. Each individual has had a huge impact on me. However, it is the rescue dog who was part of the family when I was a child who started me on this journey of reflection. As a teenager I became aware that in some countries people eat dogs, and in others they don’t eat cows or pigs, which was part of my normal world. This made me reflect on the different societal norms, and how arbitrary they are. And if eating cows was socially acceptable in the UK why wasn’t eating dogs? The solution seemed to me to either be ok with eating all animals or eat none. I choose none at all as a teenager. While I lived a vegan lifestyle, I ate a vegetarian diet. Unfortunately it took me decades to commit to a fully vegan diet but it just felt so right when I did as it fully aligned with my lifestyle and beliefs, and I wish I’d done it sooner. I’ve followed a vegan diet for about 9 years now.
5 Do you have a personal philosophy? What drives you?
Compassion and wonder. For each other, the planet and all who share this amazing world with us. My vision is of a habitable planet with a peaceful civilisation.
I want everyone (including non-human animals) to be happy and kind to each other. We are all here for a short time. Let’s help each other, and protect the precious home we all share.
6 What do you consider your main strengths are?
Calm, organised, flexible. I get on with things and do them!
7 Why did you became a part of the AJP?
I wanted to find a channel where I could use my transferable skills to help animals.
While I would donate, sign petitions and attend a few marches, I never felt like I was doing all I could to help animals.
Being involved in the AJP is such a pleasure and a privilege. I feel, as part of a political party advocating for animals, we have an opportunity to directly influence legislation, shape national policies, and bring about systemic changes which could be transformational. To be able to use my skills to support this is incredible.
8 You are Policy President. What does that entail?
It’s a one-year term, elected annually at the AGM. My duties include serving as Chair of the Policy Committee, and ensuring it operates effective and efficiently, as well as acting as spokesperson for the Party on matters of Party Policy. I also serve on the Executive Committee of the Party.
9 Do you think a single-issue party like AJP has any chance being a part of the government?
I do. I am a believer in the power of democracy and what dedicated individuals can achieve. Society changes, and norms with them. We’re now seeing political polarisation happening here in NZ, as we’ve seen happen in the UK and US, and I feel single-issue parties will gain more traction as people lose faith in parties seemingly seeking to tear apart our society, setting one group against another in one culture war after another.
In the meantime, AJP is creating a vision for the future for all of us and while single-issue parties might not often form the government, we can still play a role in shaping the political agenda and influencing policies. We can negotiate with larger parties to advocate for animals. Everything we do will raise awareness about animals and contribute to public discourse on them, and how they are treated.
10 How do you think the AJP can make a difference for animals if it remains small?
By influencing public discourse, raising awareness, and leveraging our presence. While our legislative impact might be limited, we can collaborate with larger parties, form alliances, and mobilise public support to gradually build momentum and influence towards more significant changes in the long run.
We also have the agility to focus on particular issues for specific animals to make a real difference to their lives.
As our purpose is “to work towards a society that recognises and protects the rights and well-being of animals” we won’t compromise our message. We will always speak up for animals and seek to improve their lives.
I think the Climate and Environment debate shows that more education doesn’t change people’s behaviour. We need to target people’s hearts and values. We need to provide a clear, holistic vision that people can see and desire.
To do this it is vital we are seen as a professional organisation that can be trusted in the information it shares and provides, and, of course, through our actions.
11 Is there anything else you would like to say?
Only that I am very grateful for the support of my partner, who is also a vegan. Without him I wouldn’t be able to give so much time and energy to AJP! Helping animals is both an individual and a community activity, and we all benefit.