Birthday Celebrations NCWNZ

A few days ahead of Suffrage Day this year, we will at last be able to celebrate the 125th birthday of Te Kaunihera Wāhine o Aotearoa, NCWNZ.

Deferred from last year due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, we look forward to marking this special occasion for our organisation.

There will be entertainment and refreshments. And there will be birthday cake!

Hosted by Minister for Women, Hon Jan Tinetti, the evening is an opportunity to look back and acknowledge the phenomenal efforts of the women who persevered in their quest to gain rights wrongfully withheld from women, and to obtain access to positions in society that women of Aotearoa New Zealand enjoy today.

In her presentation, NCWNZ President, Dr Suzanne Manning will reflect on the rich history of the organisation, the key issues and individuals and many members who have served NCWNZ over the past 125+ years.

The women of the 1903 delegation to Premier Seddon to urge the right for women to sit in Parliament, to serve as justices of the peace, and to receive equal pay for equal work would marvel at the current situation, where the country is being led by its third woman Prime Minister, and where women have long been able to serve as both Members of Parliament and Justices of the Peace.

Summarised by Dr Dorothy Page in her wonderful history of NCWNZ’s first 100 years, “Seddon’s reaction at the time was patronising and dismissive. In relation to political disabilities, he drew attention to the disability which, he said, not society but Nature itself had imposed on women, by making them physically weaker than the ‘Lords of Creation.’ He denied the validity of the case for equal pay, referring to women’s paid work as a preliminary to their proper role in marriage, when they would be cared for financially by a husband. As for becoming justices of the peace, women were too emotional to serve in this capacity.”

The birthday celebration also provides an opportunity to look forward, to acknowledge NCWNZ’s capacity to be dynamic and adaptable and remain relevant in the 21st century. In her presentation, NCWNZ Board Member, Dr Betty Ofe-Grant will summarise recent developments and current initiatives being undertaken by the organisation.

A great deal of NCWNZ’s history has had a focus on creating policy resolutions, which have formed the basis of submissions to governments of the day, and records show some of these have become perennial issues. The matter of equal pay is one such abiding issue. NCWNZ’s Book of Resolutions reveals the organisation resolved in 1897, “That in all cases where men and women are engaged in the same work either in the employment of Government or of private individuals, equal wage should be paid for equal work.” This same resolution was reiterated in 1900, 1901, 1902, and the chapter devoted to Employment Equity has continued with resolutions on the same subject expanded and reworded through the decades and across three centuries, including the 2018 resolution: “That NCWNZ supports legislation that provides for the implementation, monitoring and effective enforcement of pay and employment equity. This includes:

  • Equal Pay: equal pay for the same or similar work,
  • Pay Equity: equal pay for work of equal value, and
  • Employment Equity: to ensure that pay, conditions, access to the full range of jobs at all levels of the workplace, and experiences in the workplace, are not affected by gender.”

In light of this key issue of Equal Pay spanning the organisation’s history, it is fitting that the evening’s keynote speaker will be Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina Sumeo.

Kate Sheppard bust - National Library
Bust of Kate Sheppard in National Library, Wellington. Image courtesy of Kerri duPont.

The birthday party provides an ideal forum to celebrate and honour individuals who have given dedicated service to the organisation. Five long-serving NCWNZ members will be presented with a Distinguished Service Award by NCWNZ’s patron, Rt Hon Helen Clark (TBC). 

Parliament’s curatorial team has planned bespoke suffrage-themed art tours of the Parliament precinct and a fabulous display for us in the Banquet Hall. These will include objects and artworks that reflect themes of women’s rights, suffrage, women’s firsts, and artefacts from notable New Zealand women. We will also be some of the first people to view the recently created bust of Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, a key wahine Māori figure in women’s suffrage and Māori politics.

The icing on the cake will be the presence at Parliament of the companion Kate Sheppard bust. Sincere thanks to the National Library team for arranging and generously funding the secure transport of the Kate Sheppard bust to Parliament for us to enjoy at our event. This will be the first time the two busts have been displayed together.

Many thanks also to Countdown for their generous sponsorship of the evening.

We look forward to sharing the special occasion of NCWNZ’s 125th with our members, guests, and supporters.

To read more articles from The Circular (issue 636), click on the tag below.

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