On the 19th September, YWCA of Hamilton, National Council of Women Hamilton and Zonta threw an event to celebrate a magnificent milestone of 125 years of women’s suffrage.
Words by Jaime Macfie, YWCA Hamilton
Imagine yourself, 125 years ago, with no voice for anything political. Imagine you are one of more than 30,000 women banding together, writing appeals, signing petitions, doing everything they can to advocate for the women of New Zealand to have a say.
On the 19th September 1893, New Zealand was the first country in the world where women could vote in parliamentary elections. This was a ground-breaking moment, not only for women in NZ, but it inspired suffrage movements for women all over the world.
In the lead up to this, there were 32,000 women who signed the largest petition ever to be presented to parliament (270 metres long). The Legislative council, followed a few days later by the Governor, passed and consented the bill and The Electoral Act 1893 was created. This act gave women in New Zealand the right to vote and they would get their first chance at this on 28th November 1893.
So you may be asking, “What is suffrage day? And why should we, and do we, celebrate it every year?”
Suffrage day is an opportunity to not only commemorate, but also further develop the chance to gain equality. We should celebrate suffrage day to not only remember how far we have come as a country, but to continue to find ways to make further progress that benefits our women.
Suffrage day reminds us that not only is it important to vote, it is important that women continue voting today and in the future. In the 2011 general election, more than 80% of women voted, compared to approximately 77% of men. Although this statistic is from a couple of elections ago, we can see the shift and affect that women’s suffrage has had over the years.
We can even see the impact that women’s suffrage has had on the members of parliament, and the working-women. In 1893, the percentage of women in parliament was 0%, and the percentage of working women was 26%. In 2013, the percentage of women in parliament was 34%, and the percentage of working women was 58%. Fast forward to the 2017/18 and there are 120 members of parliament, 38% of which are women. This is the highest percentage New Zealand has had since women have been allowed to stand for parliament in 1919. 75% of the Green Party are women, and 46% of the Labour Party are women. (Women leaders? Jacinda, Helen and Judy)
Slowly, but surely, women are making a place for themselves within parliament. Not only are they doing this by being involved in different parties, but also there are more and more women holding some significant positions within the New Zealand parliament. This currently includes Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley, Assistant Speaker, Poto Williams, and our third female Prime Minister - Jacinda Ardern.
One of the most well-known and influential individuals who was involved with the suffrage movement is Kate Sheppard. She argued, “We are tired of having a “sphere” doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is “unwomanly””. Throughout her time fighting for this right for women, she had some brutal opposition. Male writers were recommending women to go home, be with their families, cook meals, and to attend to the domestic affairs for which “nature designed for them”.
She co-founded the National Council of Women (NCW) and was the organisation’s first president.
Kate Sheppard’s legacy and influence remain greater than ever, and she is still thought of today as being the driving force behind the women’s suffrage movement. In 1991, Kate Sheppard was put onto the NZ $10 note. On the left hand side in the background, we can see a white camellia flower. These flowers were given out to the members of parliament who supported the suffrage bill when it first passed, and now these flowers have become the symbol of the fight for women’s suffrage.
On the 19th September 2018, The YWCA of Hamilton, NCW Hamilton Branch and Zonta put on an event to celebrate a magnificent milestone of 125 years of women’s suffrage. This event showed us the continuing support that has been going on for women in our community over the many years.
There were three speakers on the day who all talked about how we can support women in our community, and how we need to get more women involved in politics, and why it is important for women to vote. It was great to see so many people attend the event, both men and women, and I hope everyone went home with new information to share. I know I did!
The women before us have all worked so hard to get us to where we are today. Let’s continue the fight, and keep showing our communities that our say is important, and does matter. We have come so far in 125 years, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for women.
- Jaime Macfie
‘Kate Sheppard Biography’. URL: https://www.biography.com/people/kate-sheppard-9481813Kate Sheppard Biography (Biography.com), published 2-April-2014
'Kate Sheppard', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/kate-sheppard, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Mar-2018
'Women's suffrage milestones ', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/suffrage-milestones, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Sep-2018
‘Women's Suffrage’, URL https://www.infoplease.com/us/gender-sexuality/womens-suffrage, (Infoplease), Date unknown
‘Voting-age women outnumber men’, URL http://archive.stats.govt.nz/tools_and_services/media-centre/media-releases-2016/suffrage-day-2016.asp (Stats NZ) 19-Sep-2016
‘Celebrating 120 years of women's suffrage’, URL http://archive.stats.govt.nz/about_us/what-we-do/previous-initiatives/statistics2013/120-years-suffrage.aspx (Stats NZ) 19-Sep-2016