New Zealand & Women’s Rights: Ahead of The Curve

New Zealand, a land of epic scenery, seemingly unconquerable sportsmen, and – if we’re throwing in some stereotypes – sheep.

New Zealand however takes the prize for being the first self-governing nation in history to grant all women the vote. On September 19th 1893, after several years of petitioning and campaigning by the suffrage movement, governor Lord Glasgow signed into law a new electoral act.

Suffrage Campaigners
New Zealand Suffrage Campaigners

This law granted all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections, and occurred some 25 years before Britain granted only a portion of the female population the right to vote. Regardless of social standing, finances or education, female New Zealanders were in the eyes of the law equal to men, and given the opportunity to make decisions that would forge their own future.

This result was not earned easily however, hard campaigning had occurred in the years preceding the Electoral Act of 1893. Led by Kate Sheppard, WCTU campaigners throughout 1891-93 compiled a series of enormous petitions demanding their right to what we consider today as a basic part of living in a democracy.

Kate Sheppard Women's Suffrage
Kate Sheppard, Women’s Rights Campaigner.

In a time where women’s rights movement across the British Empire, and indeed the globe, were garnering ever larger support, the New Zealand suffrage movement was able to achieve what many would have to wait for; They even gained the support of prominent male politicians.

A number of these figures, which included John hall, William Fox and John Ballance, had proposed bills extending women’s voting rights from 1878-1887, but they had all been narrowly defeated in parliament.

The stubborn position of parliament however was merely a bump in the road, and outside its walls people from all walks of society were warming to the idea of the unilateral female vote which was finally achieved in ’93.

Female Representation
Women Account for 31% of all Member of Parliament

Fast forward to the most recent New Zealand parliamentary election in 2014, and 31% of MP’s are female. At Local levels, women fair similarly with City Councils and Regional Boards seeing 33% and 37% respectively.

Undoubtedly there is still work to be done regarding female representation in politics, and this applies globally; In the 2017 UK elections women accounted for 32% of all MP’s, which was the highest ever.

New Zealand’s women have a long history of political involvement and leading the way, and it is absolutely a tradition that they should take pride in.

 

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