28 Nov 2018

Parliament marks 125 years since women vote in general election

6:10 pm on 28 November 2018

Songs, the smell of fresh pastries and hope for future generations of women filled the Great Hall at Parliament today, as some of the country's most celebrated women activists and supporters marked 125 years since 90,000 women voted in a general election.

Anne Else, original editor of 'Women Together: A History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand'

Anne Else, the original editor of Women Together: A History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand Ngā Rōpū Wāhine o te Motu. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The special breakfast which marks the exact day that women first voted 125 years ago was hosted by Associate Minister of Arts and Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni had about 100 attendees.

They included New Zealand sex workers' rights activist Dame Catherine Healy, leading spokesperson of the women's liberation movement Sue Kedgley and reproductive rights advocate Dame Margaret Sparrow to name a few.

Ms Sepuloni told the crowd, who sat at white linen tables, surrounded by images of women's activism in recent history, winning the right to vote, was the first step in fulfilling women's rights and acknowledging the importance of women in our political system.

She added the commitment from young women to the women's rights movement was inspiring.

"This decade has seen an increase in the number of young women identifying as feminists and an upsurge in feminist clubs and groups in schools and universities, throughout New Zealand," she said.

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Carmel Sepuloni said the commitment from young women to the women's rights movement was inspiring. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

As part of the celebration, it was announced the book [https://nzhistory.govt.nz/women-together

'Women Together: A History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand Ngā Rōpū Wāhine o te Motu,'] will now be available online - 25 years after its publication.

The book was first published in 1993, to celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage, but has since been updated and included videos, audio links and coloured pictures - a luxury too costly for the original publication's budget.

Dr Anne Else said wasn't until the second wave of feminism that women's stories finally began to be told.

"In 1980 nobody knew who Kate Shepherd was, it was just absolutely unknown and most histories in New Zealand barely mention anything to do with women," she said.

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The breakfast at Parliament to mark 125 years since women first voted in a general election. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

At the time she said it was met with suspicion, but attitudes have since changed.

What made the book so significant for many at the time of its publication, was that it put the stories of Māori women first.

"It never occurred to me to put it anywhere else except at the front of the book, and it covered every aspect of Māori women's life," she said.

She said it was extremely important to put the work online to make it accessible for younger generations.

"Especially now there's a huge surge of activism, as people realise that actually there are some extraordinary persistent problems, such as sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence and equal pay," she said.

She said that's why women's organisations are just as important as ever to organise and strategise change.

MP Carmel Sepuloni agreed more work needed to be done, before we have a truly equal society.

"It's really important we join up the activists that have operated and worked hard and fought for women's rights over the years, with the new generation of women coming through who are just as passionate," she said.

She said the best way to honour the suffragists is by continuing to create a fairer society.

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