Monday, September 22, 2008

New Zealand Women and the Vote - Suffrage

Kate Sheppard, NZ suffragette leader

New Zealand was the first self-governing nation in the world to grant women the right to vote. This right extended to both Maori and Pakeha women.

It was not until after World War I that women in most other democracies, such as the United States and United Kingdom, achieved a similar right to vote.

Kate Sheppard, head of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), led the Suffrage movement that petitioned Parliament in the years leading up to 1893, eventually persuading the Liberal government to pass the right to vote legislation in the House of Representatives and finally breaking the log jam in the Legislative Council upper house.

Sheppard and her suffragette sisters are commemorated on the current NZ$10 bank note and on a 2008 postage stamp promoting voter participation.

Political equality was still some way off for New Zealand women in 1893 since it was not until 1919 that parliament passed legislation granting women the right to stand for parliament. It was not until 1933 that the first woman member of parliament was elected, Elizabeth McCombs, who took the seat her late husband had represented.

At the 2005 general election, a third of the MPs elected were women, still lower than their presence in the population, but a significant advance historically and relative to other countries.

In recent years, women have held the country's key constitutional positions: prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives and chief justice. The glass ceiling is also starting to crack noticeably in the public service and business sector.

Further history on women’s suffrage and the right to vote can be found at New Zealand History On-line.

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