Aotearoa New Zealand is celebrating 125 years of universal women’s suffrage. An enormous struggle by suffragists, led by Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia and Kate Sheppard, culminated in women securing the right to vote in 1893. More than 30,000 signatures were collected during a seven year campaign across our nation. The campaign culminated in the presentation of a petition seeking the enfranchisement of women, carried in a wheelbarrow to Parliament. It was the largest petition ever gathered in Australasia with a quarter of voting-age women in the country signing on. The law was changed and just two months later, New Zealand women became the first in the world to exercise their right to vote in a national election.
Those who led the fight for women’s suffrage were determined, strong-minded, and committed. On the anniversary of this achievement, the Government is proud to maintain New Zealand’s role as a leader in gender equality. We recognise, however, that more can be done to protect and promote women’s rights. New Zealand wants a world where gender equality is achieved, where society is free of entrenched gender norms, and where women and girls can reach their full potential.
Three examples demonstrate New Zealand’s recent progress:
- We are working to achieve pay equity, or equal pay for different work of equal value, to address systemic structural discrimination where jobs that have predominantly been performed by women are undervalued and paid less than male-dominated jobs. A recent NZ$2 billion pay equity settlement for 55,000 care and support workers in New Zealand’s service industry demonstrates the significance of this issue. We are also leading work to eliminate the gender pay gap within the core public sector, and have extended paid parental leave to 22 weeks this year, and to 26 weeks from 2020.
- We are encouraging women and girls to train and work in occupations where high growth is projected and where women are under-represented, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and construction and trades. ‘A Nation of Curious Minds, He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara’ is a cross-government initiative aimed at improving engagement with science and technology across all sectors of society.
- We are also committed to improving the gender balance amongst senior leadership positions in the public sector, and supporting women to realise their leadership potential. Our Ministry for Women has collaborated with chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, industry training organisations, trade associations and other Government departments to promote gender diversity and greater workplace flexibility for both women and men.
This year (2018), we honour those determined and courageous women and men who fought against incredible odds to enable New Zealand women to be the first in the world to win the right to vote. It is these pioneers who helped define what we are today – a nation of people whose dreams and ambitions are boundless. The achievement of those women and men who won the right to vote is an enduring example of how individually and collectively we can influence positive change that will benefit all New Zealanders.