120th anniversary of women’s suffrage

19/09/2013

It’s the 120th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand.

Kate Shepphard’s part in the fight for women’s suffrage is recognised with her picture on our five ten dollar note.

But it wasn’t only the efforts of women that resulted in New Zealand being the first country in the world to grant women the vote.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage reminds us of the men who helped in the fight:

On September 8, 1893, for the third time the women’s suffrage bill was to be voted on by the Legislative Council – New Zealand’s upper house. It looked like a third defeat was likely; however, it passed slimly with 20 votes to 18 in its favour.

Women had won the vote; 11 days later the Electoral Bill was signed and all New Zealand women were eligible to vote in that year’s upcoming election.

Women had made it happen – more than 32,000 women had signed the Women’s Franchise petitions calling for the change in legislation, and their efforts had been heard.

They had also lobbied men, and crucially, the women’s movement had several key male supporters.

Politician, Robert Stout, in 1879 had introduced the Electoral Bill which made woman ratepayers eligible to vote and to stand for Parliament. He won for women the right to vote for licensing committees, and was largely responsible for the Married Women’s Property Act 1884, which declared a married woman capable of acquiring, holding and disposing of property in her own right. Stout later worked, in close association with his wife, Anna Paterson Stout, to limit the testamentary freedom of husbands so that property could not be willed away from wives.

John Ballance supported moves to enfranchise women, a reform of which he had long been an advocate. Speaking in the House in 1890 he declared: ‘I believe in the absolute equality of the sexes, and I think they should be in the enjoyment of equal privileges in political matters.’ In his support for women’s suffrage Ballance was strongly influenced by the views of his wife. Ellen Ballance was prominent in the growing feminist movement in New Zealand and was vice president of the Women’s Progressive Society, an international organisation.

Another who took up the cause was former Premier John Hall. He was approached by the female suffrage movement and assumed parliamentary leadership of the campaign. Hall had long believed that women had a right to the vote; he was also certain that their votes would exercise a conservative influence. His final and most lasting political triumph came with the passage of the Electoral Bill in September 1893.

Within weeks of the new law being signed 109,461 women had enrolled to vote for the 28 November election that year – 84% of all eligible women. On voting day 90,290 women voted for the first time, making history and changing politics forever.

At a function in parliament last night, Minister Hekia Parata reminded us that women weren’t given the vote, they fought for it and won.

Dame Jenny Shipley, New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister, said it wasn’t enough to have the vote, women must be at the table to participate in decision making.

(Hat tip for graphic: Lindsay Mitchell,).


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