September 19 – Suffrage Day!

September 19, is Suffrage Day in New Zealand. On this day in 1893, women in New Zealand gained the vote.

New Zealand was the first country in the world to enfranchise all women. Some women were able to vote in some elections in some other states and territories, but New Zealand was the first country to give all women exactly the same voting rights as all men.

In 2007, 114 years later, women in New Zealand have formal freedoms that the suffragists (the New Zealand term for women who fought for the vote) could not have foreseen. Women no longer lose their property on marriage, rape within marriage is recognised as a crime, women are paid the same amount as men doing the same job. To be sure, formal freedoms are not the same as substantive freedoms, but legally, formally, and to a large degree substantively, in this country women are free. And this freedom began to grow and flourish on September 19, 1893.

In the glorious maelstrom of modern life and ideas on the internet, today is also International Talk Like a Pirate Day. But when you say “Aaargh! Avast ye, me hearties”, say it in memory and honour of the women who went before us and fought against the established order to claim freedom and power.

To Kate Sheppard, who led the fight for the vote, to my forebear Elizabeth Caradus Russell, who was one of the women who fought with her, to the nearly 32,000 women who signed the petition asking for the vote, almost a quarter of the female population of New Zealand – my heartfelt thanks.

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