Suffrage 125 in the classroom

Page 2 – # Kate Sheppard sent me

Scene from the women's march in Wellington, January 2017. (Stuff / Dominion Post)

In January 2017, women from all over Aotearoa New Zealand gathered together to march in protest against sexism and sexual violence, and to call for equal rights for women. It was a global phenomenon prompted by the inauguration of US president Donald Trump. Women throughout the world were outraged by Trump’s sexist comments, but more than that, globally women were united in a push for women’s rights, human rights and social justice. In New Zealand, marches took place in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin – evidence that the women’s movement and feminism is alive and well in New Zealand.

The Women’s March Aotearoa New Zealand website explains their focus;

We hope to act as a collaborative support network and an informational clearinghouse for organisations that support women’s, human, and environmental rights, in alignment with the framework focussing on health, economic security, environment, representation, and safety.

A poignant placard used in the 2017 Women’s March – ‘Kate Sheppard sent me’ –highlighted the connection between the fight for women’s suffrage in the 1890s and the ongoing women’s movement. It was also a reminder that while much has been achieved, some of the issues raised by the suffragists remain unresolved.

In 2018, New Zealanders will celebrate the 125th anniversary of women gaining the vote. The commemoration provides an opportunity to remember the suffragists and what they achieved, but it can also be the impetus to explore women’s rights and feminist issues today, not only during the commemoration but as a topic regularly addressed through the school curriculum.

New Zealand women won the right to vote on 19 September 1893, but the commemoration invites interrogation and debate. What else was important to the suffragists – these first wave feminists? What have been the wins of the women’s movement and what are women still striving to achieve? What are the young women activists of today fighting for, and how similar or different are their activities to those of the suffragists?

Here three women are profiled, each prominent within one of three waves of feminist activity – 1890s, 1970s and today.  Each person and their story represents some of the key issues of their era and showcases the methods of activism used. Their stories invite a comparison of the similarities and differences between each wave of feminism and an opportunity to reflect on the future of the women’s movement in the 21st century.

Margaret Bullock (1845–1903)

Margaret Bullock

Margaret Bullock was a feisty protagonist in the women’s suffrage movement and part of the first wave of feminism in New Zealand in the 1890s.

In the second half of the 19th century, women suffragists in New Zealand and throughout the western world fought for the right to vote. On 19 September 1893 a new Electoral Act saw New Zealand became the first self-governing county in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections. While Kate Sheppard is the most celebrated New Zealand suffragist, each of the women involved in the campaign to gain the vote represent important aspects of the suffrage movement and first-wave feminism more broadly.

In Whanganui, Margaret Bullock actively encouraged women to sign the suffrage petition. In total 13 separate petitions with 31,872 signatories were presented to the House of Representatives. As well as canvassing for signatures for the suffrage petition, Margaret was involved in establishing the Wanganui Women’s Franchise League, an organisation focused on addressing issues around ‘women’s work and economic position’. Find out more about Margaret Bullock.

Anne Else

Anne Else

Finding inspiration in the achievements of the first wave of feminism and the American civil rights movement, women in the 1970s renewed the demand for equality. Women’s liberationists marched and shouted for equality in pay and employment and educational opportunities. Women challenged gender norms and the division of labour in the home, the workplace, the media and social spaces. Also on the agenda was more control over women’s own bodies, expressed in calls for free contraception, abortion on demand and 24-hour childcare.

Women’s conventions and conferences were another hallmark of the era.  Women’s Studies became an academic discipline and specialist feminist publications such as Broadsheet – one of New Zealand’s most important and long-lived feminist magazines – emerged.

Feminist thinker and writer Anne Else co-founded Broadsheet, which was published monthly from 1972 until 1997. Find out more about Anne Else and Broadsheet here.

Laura O’Connell Rapira

Laura Rapira

Laura is an intersectional feminist. She’s actively involved in fighting for environmental protection, human rights and social justice. Equality around ethnicity, gender and LGBTIQ+ peoples are key areas of work that she is continuously engaged in. True to the intersectional approach, Laura works to oppose oppression and injustice on multiple fronts. She aims to ‘unleash the power of people through digital and community organising, effective collaboration and values-based communications.’

The feminist activism practised by Laura stands in contrast to the door–to-door approach of the 1890s suffragists and the out-on-the-street tactics of women’s liberation. Her focus on getting young Māori women to vote highlights that even though women have the legal right to vote, many women continue to feel alienated and disconnected, and that their opinion is not relevant or valued in contemporary society.

Find out more about Laura O'Connell Rapira here.

How to cite this page

'# Kate Sheppard sent me', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/classroom/conversations/suffrage125/kate-sheppard-sent-me, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-Sep-2018

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