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In honour of all the women who came before you, and those after – for goodness sake, vote

Today is Women’s Suffrage Day; in four days’ time, the country goes to the polls. Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue reflects on the meaning of a New Zealand woman’s vote.

Kate Sheppard. Her face is on our $10 notes for a reason, but how often do we think about what that reason is? Do we ever consider how she would feel about the progress of women since she fought for our right to vote all those years ago?

How would she feel knowing that the vote she fought so hard to have, is now treated as something to do if you have time, or something unimportant because yours doesn’t really count, or something that some people just can’t be bothered doing?

Women’s Suffrage Day is today. Fitting, considering all eligible New Zealanders, including women (thanks Kate!) should be voting this week in our general election. But here’s the thing, only days ago there were fewer young people enrolled to vote than in 2014 – that’s 67% enrolment for 18–24-year-olds.

Now, I don’t want to put on the mum hat and tell young ladies to enrol and vote, but sometimes the situation calls for it.

Today of all days, our young people, especially our young women, should consider the magnitude of what was achieved back in 1893. Women were vilified, outcast and faced immense hostility for their stance.

What did they fight for, if in 2017 people are flippantly throwing away the opportunity to have their say? Consider that prior to the efforts of people like Kate Sheppard, women had no say over the way the country was run, who was running it and what decisions were being made. You, lucky young person, do and it’s worth considering what having your say has the potential to achieve.

Our Government decides so much for us – whether sexual consent is taught in schools, whether our abortion laws are reformed, whether to legislate for pay transparency in the places we work etc. But your vote allows you to decide what our Government looks like.

Educate yourself on the political parties and their policies and find one that suits you and what you want your New Zealand to look like in the future. Talk to your friends and family about the voting process and what that means. Think about what you want to stand for.

Our small country has a long history of women standing up for what they believe in, tackling the seemingly impossible and making their voices heard on the national and international stage. We are battlers and Kate Sheppard and the Women’s Suffrage movement are the tip of the iceberg.

Dame Whina Cooper who founded the Maori Women’s Welfare League and led the famous 1975 land march from Te Hapua to Parliament – an important moment in the reassertion of Maori identity and rights.

Ettie Rout who became a safe-sex advocate during the First World War by tackling venereal disease through preventative measures. At the end of 1917, the NZEF adopted her prophylactic kit for free and compulsory distribution to soldiers going on leave.

Fran Wilde who introduced the Homosexual Law Reform Bill that was passed in 1986, despite receiving death threats, hate mail and heavy criticism from the opposition. Who then went on to become the first female Mayor of Wellington.

Dr Margaret Sparrow who as a sexual health pioneer continues to be a fierce reproductive rights advocate and campaigner for our abortion laws to be reformed.

Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson who as young school students/young women got a NZ Land Wars commemoration day, ensuring that all New Zealanders understand this piece of our history.

For a glorious period in the early 2000s we achieved a girl-power political quartet, with a female prime minister, governor-general, attorney general and chief justice.

Today, we are continuing to produce confident world-leading female creatives such as writer Eleanor Catton, musician Lorde and dancer Parris Goebel.

This list goes on and on.

Each of these women took hold of the opportunity in front of them to make a change. To step up and take the lead. Now is the time for you to make the most of your opportunity – an opportunity afforded to you by the very women we celebrate today.

For goodness sake, vote.


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