Women’s rights fight continues

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As women’s suffrage is celebrated across the country this week, Wanaka women say there are still some challenges to be overcome.

On September 19, 1893 – 125 years ago – New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote.

Co-founder and chief executive of charity So They Can, Cassandra Treadwell, of Wanaka, said she had always been “incredibly proud” New Zealand was the first to give women the vote.

“I think we have come a long way. Most of my friends and colleagues and people I work with don’t see a significant difference between men and women and their capability.”

However, there was still “work to be done” on pay disparity and employment opportunities, she said.

Globally there were still many challenges and in Kenya where her charity worked “there is still female circumcision going on, girls are still being sold as brides”.

The New Zealand women who fought for equality 125 years ago deserved to celebrated, she said.

“They really are heroes to me and I think it is incredibly courageous what they have done.”

Dame Sukhi Turner, of Wanaka, said she recalled being a young pupil in India when New Zealand was held up as a place where women were accepted in areas including medicine and the law profession.

“Things have certainly moved quite a long way, but not as far as pay equity, though.”

Decision-makers were making a “real effort” to make changes in pay equity, she said.

“If you travel around a lot and know different cultures, there is a lot to be thankful for women in New Zealand, so you’ve got to count your blessings as well.

improvements you can make in society, but we need to celebrate the advances we have made.”

Business owner Helen Johnston, of Wanaka, opened her retail store in the town centre 32 years ago.

The Wanaka Women’s Suffrage Committee had invited Mrs Johnston to plant a white “Kate Sheppard” camellia at Wanaka Library in celebration of women’s suffrage.

It was “a real honour” to be asked, she said.

“I was quite overwhelmed, and then I starting thinking about women like my grandmother, and my mother, and how times have definitely changed.

“I do think that the male sector are a lot more accepting of females now.”

Several petitions to parliament in 1891, 1892 and 1893 led to the vote, with a final petition listing the names of about 24,000 women from across the country.

Information from the main suffrage petition submitted to Parliament in 1893 has been digitised by Archives New Zealand.

Signatures from Central Otago reflected population centres of the time, with 36 names listed from the gold rush town of Lawrence and 24 from Blue Spur – also a gold rush town near Lawrence.

Eleven names were listed from Cardrona, three from Naseby and two from Millers Flat.

The sole entry for Alexandra was Esther Jane Holden, while Mrs Edward Arthur was the sole entry from Cromwell and Julia Remer the single entry from Lake Wanaka.

Wanaka Women’s Suffrage Committee

Suffrage 125 morning tea

September 19, 10.30am

Wanaka Library

Talk by writer Jenny Moss about Skirt Tales, and Skirt Tales 2

A white “Kate Sheppard” camellia will be planted in the library garden.