Suffrage 125 a milestone year for the National Council of Women

The National Council of Women is celebrating this milestone year by pushing forward to achieve gender equality for all New Zealanders with our Gender Equal NZ campaign.

Today marks 125 years since New Zealand women won the right to vote. On 19 September 1893, after the suffragists submitted a petition with nearly 32,000 signatures New Zealand became the first country in which women could vote. Three years later in 1896 Kate Sheppard founded the National Council of Women.

“We are a movement with a rich and proud history” says National Council of Women of New Zealand National President Vanisa Dhiru. “We were set up by our founding President, Kate Sheppard, and prominent leaders of NZ’s suffrage movement to plan how to use the vote they’d just won for women.”

Vanisa with NCWNZ’s founding meeting in 1896

“Since then, there have been proud shifts in rights for women and gender diverse people” says Vanisa, “but it’s essential that we recognise that we still have a long way to go to achieve true gender equality for all New Zealanders. Issues such as high rates of domestic and sexual violence, the gender pay gap and low rates of women in leadership positions are negatively impacting all New Zealand women.”

The National Council of Women is leading Gender Equal NZ, a campaign that is working towards all New Zealanders having the freedom and opportunity to determine their own future – free of gender stereotypes and constraints. The Gender Equal NZ campaign includes three major projects: the Gender Attitudes Survey, the Gender Dashboard and the Gender Culture Taskforce.

“We must pay attention to all aspects of New Zealanders’ lives if we are truly committed to a Gender Equal NZ” says Vanisa, “this means addressing racism, issues to do with class, disability, and of course transphobia, biphobia and homophobia.”  As Kate Sheppard famously said ‘All that separates whether of race, class, creed or sex is inhuman and must be overcome’.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has recently called on the New Zealand government to establish a national action plan for all New Zealand women – and has stressed that we must urgently tackle the enduring negative outcomes for Māori, Pacific, Asian, migrant and refugee women, rural women, women with disabilities, and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.

“So, in other words” says Vanisa, “it is not enough to achieve equality for Pakeha, able-bodied, cis-gender, heterosexual women who live in urban centres”.

“We need to be doing more – and listening to all genders’ experiences of discrimination more” says Vanisa, “to ensure that any steps toward gender equality are truly inclusive and recognise that forms of oppression do not operate in isolation.”

More than three quarters of disabled women earn less than $30K per year, and on average Pacifica women earn about a third of Pakeha men. For many trans people, there are significant barriers to finding and keeping safe employment at all.

“Pay equity was one of the very first issues that the NCW campaigned on and we’re still working to close the gap, 122 years on” says Vanisa.

Our recent Gender Attitudes Survey showed that New Zealanders’ attitudes towards gender roles are having an impact on workplace and income equality:

  • 19% of New Zealanders think being in a position of power is seen as more important for men
  • 14% more New Zealanders think it is more important for men to have a well-paying job
  • 43% of New Zealanders think that people must work full time if they want to progress their career
  • 53% of New Zealanders think women feel pressured to choose between being a good wife/mother or having a career

“My hope is that on Suffrage Day in the years to come we will be able to collectively celebrate true gender equality for all New Zealanders. But we need all New Zealanders to work together as one so that we can finally finish the job that Kate started.”

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