Three things you can do to celebrate 125 years of Suffrage

September 11, 2018

By Jessica Marshall

Hey guys! Guess what? This year, this month in fact, is a big one if you’re a woman and you like voting. That’s right, the 19th September marks 125 years since women in New Zealand gained the right to vote!!!!

I get it, it doesn’t sound like much for those of you who’ve had the right to vote for the entire history of democracy. To you, it’s not a big deal, right? And, I suppose it’s not a big deal if you’re apathetic about voting. But, for those of us who’ve only had that right for 125 years and vote every time the opportunity arises, it’s actually a big deal – or at least, it should be, not least of all because we were the first in the world to grant women that right. Yeah, we were so ahead of the curve that it took our colonial overlords, Britain, 25 years to catch up.

A little while ago, I got the opportunity to attend the conference for the National Women’s Council, an organisation founded by the great suffragette Kate Shepard. If you’re unfamiliar with the different movements that have involved women over the years, it would be an eye-opening experience – actually, it’s rather eye-opening even if you’re familiar with them. It’s also pretty cool because former Prime Minister Helen Clark was the keynote speaker. The big message I got from that conference was that we’ve not actually moved terribly far in terms of women’s rights from the 19th September 1893. As Helen Clark put it at that event, women’s rights are always at threat of slippage.

So, what can you and I, all of us students on our limited budgets, do?

Educate Yourself

How many of us, in the aftermath of the first #metoo revelations, still aren’t sure what sexual harassment is? Or, how many of us knew that the sexist joke that bloke told us in the café took it a little too far? How many of us knew that sexual harassment doesn’t only affect women? Come on, you can put your hands up. There’s no shame in not knowing.

Huh, fewer of us might have been aware than we thought.

Okay, how many of us know what the gender pay gap is? How many of us think it’s a myth? How many of us have – at one time or another – blamed it on something like motherhood or a woman’s likeliness to be in part-time work? The gap is 12% here in New Zealand, and those excuses we use? Yeah, those only affect 20% of employed women, according to research from the Ministry of Women. For a break, here’s College Humor’s take on the issue:

Did you know that Climate Change is going to affect women worst? Seriously, according to Ireland’s former President, Mary Robinson, “Climate Change is not gender neutral.” Women are, according to a report from the London School of Economics, more likely to die in a natural disaster than men. Why? Well, I can’t give you a definitive answer – I’m definitely not an expert in the subject. But, if you’re interested in the subject, there’s a great photo essay from UN Women you can look at.

Look, I’m not suggesting you spend hours upon hours reading feminist theory – as much as I love the subject, I’ve always found the theory a little heavy-handed and overly academic for my liking. But, you should definitely read up on some feminist issues – I highly recommend reading any of Jessica Valenti’s columns for the Guardian or the New York Times, or you can always read Roxane Gay’s book, Bad Feminist, for a basic and quick read.

Go to Some Events

It sounds like a pretty random thing to suggest but, in reality, this is a great way to show some support and/or interest. I’ve provided a short listing below (don’t worry, they’re all free events)”

  • Are We There Yet? – Auckland War Memorial Museum is celebrating the 125-year anniversary of women’s suffrage with an exhibition on the women’s rights movement and the treatment of women in New Zealand. It’s a really interactive exhibition too – and there’s a movie.
  • Wāhine Take Action – Another exhibition on women’s rights in New Zealand (I know, there’s a lot), this time run by Auckland Libraries in the Central City Library.
  • Sunrise Celebration – If you’re an early riser, or have some time to kill before that 9am lecture starts, it might be worth it to head to Aotea Square on 19th September for 7am. The Prime Minister will be speaking and there will be a performance from New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh among others.

What Can I Do From My Couch (or Bed - Don't Worry, I Won't Judge)?'

You could write out a tweet. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more challenging, you could do what I’m doing now and write a blog post.

There are some pretty awesome films out there too. A few favourites? My Year with Helen (dir. Gaylene Preston), The Color Purple (dir. Steven Spielberg), Erin Brokovitch (dir. Steven Soderbergh), and there’s always Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins).

Or, there’s a really cool thing going on at the moment. The Women on Wikipedia Challenge urges you to find a woman – she could be a writer, an artist, a community figure, or an activist – and search her up on Wikipedia. If she doesn’t have a page, write one. If she does, then fill in the gaps if you can. Then, post it to the Facebook page so that everyone else can read it.

So, have fun celebrating these 125 years of suffrage, I know I will.


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