One of the things I think is interesting about the debate over women’s suffrage is that the male politicians of the day warned about changing the “natural” gender roles of men and women, an argument we’d see repackaged by conservatives in the recent debate over marriage equality. Despite the opponents’ warnings about female voters facing trouble from boorish and drunken men at the polls, the first election under the new freedoms (1893) was described as New Zealand’s “best-conducted and most orderly”. Freedom often works like that.
However, it wasn’t until 1919 that women got the right to stand for Parliament, and it wasn’t until 1933—40 years after women’s suffrage—that the first female Member of Parliament, Elizabeth McCombs, was elected. In December, 1997, New Zealand got its first female Prime Minister when Jenny Shipley rolled then-National Party Leader Jim Bolger. Two years later, Labour Party Leader Helen Clark became the first woman to become Prime Minister through elections, and she served in that office for just under ten years.
The celebratory graphic with this post is from female members of the Labour Party caucus in Parliament. Even though things are obviously better for women than in 1893, New Zealand has a long way to go before it has gender equality. So why did the Prime Minister’s office think the graphic below, highlighting the inequality of women, was a good way to celebrate Women’s Suffrage Day?
|THIS is what John Key thinks is celebratory?|
|Young Nats' Exaggeration.|
We have a long way to go before we achieve full equality for women, despite what John Key seems to think. But 120 years ago today, the fight became real as women finally got the vote. Celebrating that fact is what today is about; rededicating ourselves to completing the work is our obligation.