If the history of politics in this country is to teach us anything, it’s that our vote is our voice, and this voice is a privilege.
Especially being female.
Today, September 19, marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. On this day back in 1893 all women in New Zealand were given the right to vote as the Electoral Act 1893 was passed. 2018 seems to be a year characterised by a strong global feminist uprising of sorts, with questions being raised that have for too long been hidden or ignored. The reality for women in many (if not most) countries is still extremely unfair, and we don’t for a second want to paint a rosy picture claiming that all women have finally broken free to become liberated voices the world over..But what we do want to do today is celebrate the progressive campaigns that New Zealand has thankfully front footed for many years, and pay homage to the feminine voices of the Mana Wahine who have been carving the shapes of our nation’s history for over a century now.
Before the landmark legislation of 1893, no women in New Zealand were offered the chance to have their say when it came to politics – as was the norm in all other countries around the world at the time.
This was a reality that did not sit right with maverick lass Kate Sheppard.
In 1885 Kate had become the founding member of a union called the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union – WCTU, a small band of 600 members who were committed to social and legislative reforms concerning temperance and the welfare of women and children. In order for these issues to be taken seriously however, the members quickly realised that their proposals would benefit from being put forward by women who possessed the right to representation in Parliament. By 1891 she had started editing a page dedicated to women in the Prohibitionist, a national temperance magazine, and went on to front the largest petition ever presented to Parliament two years later, which boasted nearly 32,000 signatures.
It is now, within our liberal democracy, that these women are more commonly known as the collective of early suffragists (women who campaigned for women’s suffrage) in New Zealand, leading us to become the first self-governing country in the world where all women over the age of 18 have the right to vote in elections. Our country has since lived out a timeline with parliamentary stats that boast over 31% female members, and 3 female prime ministers – Helen Clark, Jenny Shipley and now Jacinda Arden, who at 37 is the our youngest leader since Edward Stafford in 1856, and the second leader in the world to give birth while in office.
So this week we encourage you to take a moment to consider a reality where your normal daily obligations or monotonies may not be possible – like going to work for a steady income, studying at university, driving your own car, freewill and consent, or simply the gift of choosing what you hope for in your future life. And when the next partition, election or referendum slips roll out, treat the walk down to your local community hall to tick those boxes not as an aimless task, but an integral part in saluting the efforts of the women who risked much just so you can.
This what it means to be woman, and what it means to have a voice.
Well done New Zealand, ‘let’s do this’ even more.