Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted August 12, 2020

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(350 words) New Zealand led the way...

Gaining The Vote For Women

by LisaMay

My piece of history Contest Winner 

America is not the only country with an election scheduled this year. While the conflicting opinions of Democrats and Republicans gain centre stage in the international media, my own thoughts turn to national politics here in New Zealand. 

We are currently being ably governed by a coalition led by Jacinda Ardern as our Prime Minister. She is the third female to lead our country, after former Prime Ministers Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark. Our election is scheduled for 19th September, an important anniversary date. 

My imagination takes me back to 1893...

“Kate, can you pass the paste pot, please? I’ve a few more petitions to glue.”

I was among a group of women sitting in Kate Sheppard’s Christchurch kitchen, pasting all the petition sheets together that had been coming in from throughout New Zealand. Now we were busily joining them end-to-end and rolling them around a broom handle. 

“I pray we’ll be successful this year, Mary.” Kate said earnestly. “So much effort over so many years. Look at the support! There’s thousands of signatures.”

In fact, we would learn later that it was the biggest petition ever presented in Australasia. I felt honoured to be chosen to push the wheelbarrow to parliament to present it on the 28th July, 1893. 

Women throughout New Zealand waited on tenterhooks to see if our men would see our point of view this time with their parliamentary decision. Would they support us like we’d been doing for them throughout our young Colony’s life? We’d been working beside them, showing our dedication and fortitude in our homes as well as other endeavours. 

There was so much entrenched opinion to overcome. Yes, we were activists and reformers, but any unjust system based on inequality needs to be shown the error of its ways.

When the decision was announced on 19th September, 1893, we wept tears of jubilation, hitched up our skirts and danced in the streets. The children were still bathed, the menfolk still had their hot dinners, but we women of New Zealand had achieved an historic world landmark. We’d gained the right to vote!


Writing Prompt
Write a flash fiction ( 350 words title not included ) about the historical event you wish you had lived through. What would it have been like, do you think? Share your impressions in your flash fiction.

My piece of history
Contest Winner

Author's Note:
(The photo shows a commemorative panel in Christchurch featuring Kate Sheppard and some of her suffrage group, with the petition in the wheelbarrow.)

These are some historical facts about how NZ women achieved voting rights:

It was the result of many years of effort by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard. (Her contribution to New Zealand's history has been acknowledged by her portrait replacing that of the Queen on the NZ$10 note.) Petition sheets, circulated throughout New Zealand, were returned to Christchurch where Kate joined each sheet then rolled them around a section of a broom handle.

On the 28th July 1893, Mary J. Carpenter submitted this "monster petition" to Parliament demanding women have the right to vote. MP Sir John Hall presented it to the House of Representatives by rolling it down the aisle of the Debating Chamber. There were nearly 32,000 signatories.

On 19th September 1893 the governor, Lord Glasgow, signed a new Electoral Act into law. As a result of this landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

In the early 21st century, women have held each of New Zealand's key constitutional positions: prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general and chief justice.

In most other democracies - including Britain and the United States - women did not win the right to the vote until after the First World War. New Zealand's world leadership in women's suffrage became a central part of our image as a trail-blazer in social policy initiatives.
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