In the first of several interviews in a 125 Suffrage-themed Five Questions series, The Courier puts the questions to National Council of Women South Canterbury branch president Alison Gray.
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?
In 1893 the powerful change that offered women the vote was only the beginning of the real struggle for social change in New Zealand.
The National Council of Women saw that only through effective legislation could fair conditions of employment for women be won.
Individual representatives of local and national bodies brought forward responses from their organisations about women’s lived experiences to do with employment as well as health.
Women began to influence at a local level, as well as nationally, when new laws were being written.
Q How significant is this anniversary?
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Kate Sheppard and her followers won the right for New Zealand women to be the first in the world to vote.
Three years later they founded the National Council of Women of New Zealand – the “Women’s Parliament” – to keep fighting for equality and human rights for women.
Today NCWNZ leads the Gender Equal NZ campaign to make a fairer, more just and equal society for all New Zealanders.
Q How has the fight for equal rights affected you on a personal level?
My experience of personal freedom has been supported by the work of those who have gone before me who fought for the availability of paid work, acceptable working conditions as well as sufficient income to cover living costs.
I have worked for an organisation created to support women wanting to make informed decisions about their lives.
The temperance movement sought controls on alcohol as well as the right to vote and this continues to be important for me today.
Q Is this work of the Suffragists still relevant in this day and age?
While we are aware that New Zealand was the first country to offer women the vote, let us think about the constraints on the lives of women at that time that meant married women could not own property, get a bank loan or participate in civic life.
The Suffragists and the more radical Suffragettes wanted to be viewed as individuals with the right to cast a vote to have a say in who would represent them.
This is relevant today as we move towards genuine equality across all genders.
Q What work is still to be done?
This 125-year anniversary is an important refocusing opportunity.
Many achievements have been made but those raising children, playing sport, immigrant women and those employed in the workforce may still experience gender-based violence, the continued gender pay gap, bullying and discrimination.
To bring about equality many of us think everything has been achieved.
There is much more to be addressed.