Continuing the interviews in a 125 Suffrage-themed Five Questions series, The Courier puts the questions to Member of Parliament for Waitaki Jacqui Dean. On September 19, 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world where women could vote, and The Courier is recognising this milestone in a variety of ways during September.
Q How important has Women’s Suffrage been for our country?
There can be no doubt this landmark legislation had a profound effect on shaping the country we are so proud to call home today.
The victory for Kate Sheppard and the suffragettes made the world sit up and take notice of this tiny democracy in the South Pacific which was paving the way for female equality across the globe. Women were given a voice and opportunities which not only made us trailblazers in that era, but furthermore enriched the lives of all New Zealanders.
Q How significant is this anniversary?
It has been 125 years since Kate Sheppard and the suffragettes battled so fiercely for a voice, for females to be seen as “worthy” of taking part in “public” life and the so called “rough and tumble” world of politics.
Now thanks to these passionate females, the idea of women not being allowed to vote in New Zealand is simply inconceivable.
And while we still have work to do, to continue to break down the gender barriers of the past, there is no doubt progress has been made.
Females now represent 40% of Parliament, with a record number of MPs.
Women have also held all the key roles in Government over the past two decades.
Q How has the fight for equal rights affected you on a personal level?
Well, for starters if the suffragettes hadn’t achieved what they did, I may not be speaking to you now.
I might have still been at home where, as a female, I was “best suited doing house work and domestic duties” (as the narrow-minded viewpoint was in 1883).
Kate Sheppard inspired me and the nation to aim high, to fight for their dreams and not just settle for the status quo.
It allowed me to think big and be unafraid to fight for my role as the first female Member of Parliament for the Waitaki district, to and continue to challenge the decision makers in Parliament to this day.
And to know I won the role not because I was a female, but because I achieved more votes than the other candidates.
Q Is this work of the suffragists still relevant in this day and age?
Absolutely, I believe this victory defined us as a country and as a people and can only continue to be relevant.
The past decade has seen empowered women and girls continue to know and grow their worth, unafraid to reach for their goals and no longer confined by the gender stereotypes of the past.
It also demonstrates how passion and belief can move mountains.
The suffragettes’ determination and unwillingness to give up in the face of many hurdles can only be seen as an inspiration for all New Zealanders today.
Q What work is still to be done?
While we must acknowledge the past, I look forward to the day when the issue of gender equality is no longer something we feel the need to speak about. When females can be confident they achieved a desired position because they were the best person for the job, not to fill workplace gender quotas but because they deserved to be there above all the other candidates.
Until then it is our role as females to continue to question and challenge gender inequality while earning our voice, showing we deserve it and never letting Kate Sheppard and the suffragettes’ hard-fought victory be in vain.