Where Has 125 Years Left Us?


125 years ago New Zealand became the first country to give women the right to vote. And 125 years later we are still leading the way.

As I write this, our 37-year-old female, unmarried, prime minister is in Auckland preparing for the birth of her first child. Our chief justice, the singular highest judge in our country, is female, and our Governor General is also a woman, who before that worked her way to the position of partner at one of New Zealand's biggest law firms, within only a year of working there.

The old boys club is being turned into the female powerhouse and it brings hope, motivation and inspiration to all young women who aspire for successful careers, to work hard to be the best in their field, to serve our country, to have the biggest impact they can.

In 1893 after submitting a petition with nearly 32,000 signatures New Zealand became the first self-governing country to give women the right to vote. In 1933 Elizabeth McCombs became the first female MP. In 1997 we had our first female prime minister, Jenny Shipley,  who was superseded by our first elected female prime minister Helen Clark 2 years later.

Just like 125 years ago, we pause to celebrate the momentous progress we have made, pause to acknowledge the hard work of the women who have cut down trees, trodden over grass and climbed mounts to lead the way along this untrodden path and make it easier for all those who follow, we also look forward at the deep valleys, raging rivers and treacherous mountains still to navigate.

As former Women Affairs Minister Jo Goodhew said “New Zealand continues to be well-regarded internationally for our gender equality. But we still need to work together towards greater economic independence, improved safety from violence and increased representation in all types of leadership for women.”

In 2018 only 8% of company directors are women, abortion is still in the crimes act, we have the highest rate of domestic violence in the OECD, and over the past few years, we have seen news articles that even women in our developed country struggle to afford sanitary products.

I hope New Zealand accepts this wero from so many women and use the next 125 years to continue leading the way.

One group of activists or one government or one individual cannot do this alone, the hard work and barriers faced by suffragettes show the challenges faced to create change. Parents, people of influence, public servants, teachers, friends, sports people, media, government, mentors, anyone who has a young woman in their lives need to be a role model and encourage and support them to fulfil their leadership potential. Encourage them to defy subconscious bias, create a safe environment for them to gain economic independence, and work with both men and women to change our society so she does not face the realities of sexism, assault, a lack of pay equity or more.

Because we're not just rugby players, mountain climbers and atom-splitters. We are a nation of strong women too, shot putters, politicians, judges, but most importantly, we are one nation that is committed to continuing to lead the way, while the world watches.


This article was written by Maisy Bentley. Maisy is a LLB/BA student who is actively involved in social change work in the mental health, youth development and women's empowerment areas, especially in the not-for-profit sector.

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