Kiwi women led the world


This week people around the country celebrated Suffrage Day. Daisy Hudson talks to two Queenstown councillors about how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.

It’s something many of us likely take for granted, but 125 years ago, women fought to make New Zealand the first country in the world where they could vote.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and other organisations campaigned for years for equality at the ballot box, and a number of petitions were presented to Parliament.

Those delivered in 1893 alone were signed by a quarter of the country’s female adult population.

Their struggle was successful and on September 19, 1893, the governor, Lord Glasgow, signed a new Electoral Act into law, granting all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

In most other democracies, including Britain and the United States, women did not get the right to vote until after World War I.

New Zealand women voted for the first time in a general election on November 28, 1893 – 90,000 of them went to the polls.

A day later, Elizabeth Yates was elected as mayor of Onehunga, cementing her place as a pioneer of women’s political rights. She was the first woman in the British Empire to hold the office of mayor.

Our first female mayor, Vanessa van Uden, was elected in 2010.

In Queenstown now, three of our elected officials are women – councillors Alexa Forbes, Penny Clark and Val Miller.

Forbes says she makes a conscious effort to “make sure everyone can participate and that one voice is not louder than the next”.

“Our table is pretty inclusive within the institutionalised biases we live with.

“Opportunities include giving a voice to women, but also using our experience and knowledge of bias to enable others who don’t have equal opportunity.”

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