In the second of several interviews in a 125 Suffrage-themed Five Questions series, The Courier puts the questions to Rangitata-based Labour list MP Jo Luxton. 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?
Long before it was a hashtag, our women’s suffrage movement helped put New Zealand on the map, and it continues to do so.
Kate Sheppard, who is buried here in Canterbury, famously won New Zealand women the right to vote, having already been the editor of our nation’s first woman-operated newspaper, The White Ribbon. Today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joins thousands of Kiwi women in highlighting to girls all over the world that having a family and a career isn’t the chicken-or-the-egg situation it used to be.
Q How significant is this anniversary?
This anniversary is very important, to our national identity and for all Kiwi females.
New Zealand women go above and beyond every day to make things happy for their children and for their careers. I don’t feel we realise just how progressive we are. It’s just instinctive for Kiwi women.
To have a day to pause and say, “Hey, you know what? We’re breaking old boundaries and creating a better, fairer Aotearoa in the process” is pretty well deserved.
Q How has the fight for equal rights affected you on a personal level?
It has affected me in the sense that it has encouraged me as a woman to get into Parliament and advocate on many fronts and for many issues which still affect us in the twenty-first century.
As a mother though, I want to ensure my daughter grows up in a society which values the contribution she can make and is also valued on an equal basis to that of her male equivalents.
Events to celebrate anniversary
Celebrations of the 125th anniversary of suffrage are getting under way in South Canterbury.
Next Wednesday, September 19, marks 125 years since the Electoral Act 1893 was signed into law, giving all New Zealand women the right to vote.
The day’s celebrations in South Canterbury will begin with a 125 Suffrage breakfast at the Women’s Centre on Butler St at 8am.
Hosted by the National Council of Women South Canterbury branch, the breakfast will feature guest speaker Julie Dockrill, who will speak about bringing modern midwifery skills to Mongolian women.
The South Canterbury Museum will also mark the occasion with a 125 Suffrage celebration ceremony on Wednesday evening.
The event, which starts at 5.30pm, will begin with a planting in the Suffrage Garden near the Perth St museum.
This will be followed by the opening of the museum’s Suffrage 125 exhibition.
All residents are welcome to attend the event, which will run from 5.30pm to about 6.45pm.
The Rural Women New Zealand South Canterbury branch will host a Suffrage 125 luncheon on September 28 at Sopheze on the Bay.
The keynote speaker will be National Council of Women NZ president Vanisa Dhiru.
Q Is this work of the suffragists still relevant in this day and age?
It is, and not just for suffragists.
Equality isn’t something to achieve in isolation.
At all levels we need to ensure the safety, rights and opportunities available for women are just as equal as they are on any other playing field.
From Government to the workplace, schools to iwi and around the family dinner table, we can all think of ways we can add to a better tomorrow for women.
Q What work is still to be done?
Jacinda Ardern makes no apologies for focusing this Government on lifting 88,000 Kiwis out of poverty.
In many respects, you do that by enhancing the security, opportunities and equality available to their mothers or their female caregivers.
We are committed to closing the gender pay gap, and through a raft of pay equity agreements have already closed this gap by 9.2% since 2017.
We’ve extended paid parental leave and introduced the Best Start Payment to ensure all Kiwi parents receive financial support during baby’s most influential years.
We’ve increased funding for survivors of family violence for the first time in 10 years and given $13.5million to victim support.
There is still work to do in terms of careers, remuneration and rights, but we have our sleeves rolled up and we are working on it in partnership with New Zealand.
Suffrage isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a nation’s issue, and I’m proud to see South Canterbury recognises that.