Sufferage: The Sideways Movement
This year we celebrate 125 years since the Women’s Suffrage movement. In New Zealand, Kate Sheppard lead the charge to get women the vote.
“Speaking for a new generation, she argued, ‘We are tired of having a “sphere” doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is “unwomanly”.’
Sheppard travelled the country, writing to newspapers, holding public meetings and lobbying members of Parliament. Opposition was fierce. As Wellington resident Henry Wright wrote, women were ‘recommended to go home, look after their children, cook their husbands’ dinners, empty the slops, and generally attend to the domestic affairs for which Nature designed them’; they should give up ‘meddling in masculine concerns of which they are profoundly ignorant’.
In 1893 Kate Sheppard and her fellow suffragists gathered the signatures of nearly 32,000 women to demonstrate the groundswell of support for their cause. A 270-m-long petition – then the largest ever presented to Parliament – was unrolled across the chamber of the House with dramatic effect. Despite the opposition of Premier Richard Seddon, the Electoral Act 1893 was passed by both houses of Parliament and became law on 19 September. The news took New Zealand by storm and inspired suffrage movements all over the world.”
But how far have we actually come. I’m not talking about a bunch of young women holding their own comedy special on TV3 and making it out that they still have it bad or celebrating their womanhood.
I’m talking about two unions representing jobs that are mainly made up of women that both decided to go on strike this year. In August, NZEI members voted to strike amid their pay negotiations. 75% of Primary school teachers are female (2017, Education Counts). A month earlier, the Nurses also went on strike. 95% of Nurses are female (2015, NZNO) I’m talking about both these professions, predominantly female, feeling like they are under-valued and over-worked in New Zealand society today.
I’m not for a second suggesting that they are under-valued because they are traditionally and predominantly female based professions. I’m just saying, it is a very interesting point of time in our history, and it might pay to reflect and review where we are as a country a little bit further than pretty smiles and celebrations on the news channels and hyped up comedy galas featuring female comedians.