This coming Friday, 20th September, voting begins in our City Council elections. We will elect a Mayor and other local community representatives. A friend of mine** is standing for election to the Health Board. The fact that she can stand for election (and that I can vote for her) is due to a momentous event that took place on 19 September 1893. It was on this date, one hundred and twenty years ago, that Lord Glasgow, Governor of New Zealand, signed a new Electoral Act in to law. The new Act gave all women in New Zealand the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
The suffragists were jubilant at their success, and this legislation made New Zealand the first self-governing country in the world to give women the freedom to vote. Congratulations came pouring in from around the globe. Our historic victory in tiny New Zealand gave courage and hope to those who still had a long fight ahead of them for women’s suffrage.
The campaign for women’s suffrage in New Zealand was long and hard. The campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard, compiled a series of petitions, the final one of which was submitted to Parliament on 28 July 1893. It contained more than 25,000 signatures, was more than 270 metres long….and it was successful. The petition is of such significance that it is included in the UNESCO Memory of the World register of documentary heritage. (‘Suffrage petition, 1893’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/suffrage-petition-1893, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012)
A mere 10 weeks after the new Electoral Act was signed, New Zealand went to the polls on 28 November 1893. In those ten weeks, “109,461 women – about 84% of the adult female population – enrolled to vote in the election. On polling day 90,290 of them cast their votes,” http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/page/women-vote-first-general-election
To understand the excitement and fervour of those first women voters, listen to this wonderful sound recording of three women recalling their first experience of voting in 1893. Not only are their words wonderful but their New Zealand accents, so different from our accents today, are too. http://static.radionz.net.nz/assets/audio_item/0010/2521792/santk-20130909-0000-first_time_women_voters_1893.asx
Sadly, many voters no longer feel that same enthusiasm. In our last general elections in 2011, one million of our eligible voters didn’t use their right to vote. What a waste!
There are many excellent links to the event we are commemorating today, http://cclblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/suffrage-city/ including my own post (not necessarily excellent 🙂 )
And, because of the international significance of the achievements of this day in 1893, I would like to recommend two blog posts about women and the recent elections in Australia and Norway. http://misslouella.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/sheilas-eh-who-needs-em/ and http://bentehaarstad.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/democracy-100-years/
Lastly, for the sake of those who fought so hard to give us the right to vote, and, for the sake of those women who cannot vote, or cannot do so easily and freely, when it is time for any of us to vote, PLEASE VOTE. It matters.
** My friend’s Facebook page is Vote Allison Franklin for Canterbury DHB