Friday, 19 September 2008

Suffrage Eve and all that

Thanks so much to everyone who helped with our first event last night, the Inaugural Suffrage Eve Debate. The highlights for me were the honest and open-hearted speeches by our four women candidates (Sarita Divis from the Alliance, Nikki Kaye from National, Anjum Rahman from Labour, and Lyn Murphy from Act) and the interesting discussions around health rationing (in the context of the herceptin debate) and why women are still under-represented in politics. Oh and the cupcakes! Mmmm cupcakes.

There were a few lessons to learn for next time (lesson 1. check the urn at home first!), and I'd be interested in any constructive criticism that people have to offer, by email or comment.

I've included below some relevant extracts from the introductory speech I gave last night, and I hope that Anjum posts her speech, as the bits I heard were fantastic, and there was a lot of positive feedback about it afterwards.

Before I turn over the podium I’d like to reflect a little bit on the event that we are commemorating this evening. One hundred and fifteen years ago tomorrow NZ women were the first in the world to win the vote. Today we take that vote for granted, but in the 1890s the world was a different place for women.

NZ society was very much bicultural – Maori or Pakeha – will few immigrants who did not come from British stock. Women were still outnumbered by men, as they had been since colonization by Europeans began, although the gender gap was closing. The public sphere was almost exclusively a man’s world, and many considered the idea of women voting unnatural. It was widely believed that the weaker sex were naturally suited for domestic affairs such as keeping a home and child-rearing, and that only men should have a role in politics.

In 1893 many men in Aotearoa were without work as a result of an economic depression. Many Maori whanau had recently lost their land, through confiscation, war or sale, and were living in temporary camps, trying to get seasonal work. Our economyspan id="fullpost"> was very much based around primary production, and women rarely worked outside the home. Most occupations were not open to women and for most ownership of assets was only possible through the male head of the family – usually a husband or father, sometimes a son or brother.

As women became active in the Temperance Movement, and became more highly educated pressure mounted for women’s legal and political rights to be granted. Suffragettes agitated for the vote, and called on the networks and credibility women had built through their work in church and charity groups. There was a focus on women as a force for the moral reform of society – that once we had the vote we would clean up politics, and by extension the country.

Opponents, including some women, decried the idea of votes for women as not only unnatural but also unnecessary – arguing that women had a vote through the men they influenced. The liquor barons feared that giving women the vote might lead to prohibition, and poured considerable resources into opposing the suffrage movement.

Luckily for all of us they were unsuccessful. And the world we live in today is different as a result of the victory of our fore-mothers.

The New Zealand of today is a multicultural society, particularly in Auckland, where immigrants come from all over the world to settle. The idea of denying women the right to vote seems fanciful now, when we have had 2 female Prime Ministers, women serving as Governors General and Chief Justice, and our first female Speaker of the House. We are found in all professions, although not always in large numbers, and discrimination on the basis of sex is now illegal.

We have many battles still to win, and many struggles ahead of us – equal pay for equal work, securing and improving reproductive rights, building women’s political and social representation, and enhancing the value of traditional women’s work, for starters. But we have built significantly on the legacy of those suffragettes of a century past. I hope that in one hundred and fifteen years time our great grand daughters can look at their world and see the contributions we have made to a fairer society for them.

Happy One Hundred and Fifteen Years Since Women Got The Vote Day everyone!


Paul said...

I woke this morning with a longing for more cupcakes. Then I realised I should be thinking about suffrage. So, yay: this was the day 115 years ago that Democracy was first established.

stargazer said...

thank you so much julie for the energy you put towards this event. i thought it went really well, and really appreciated being a part of it. will try to write up my speech over the weekend and put it up.

Anonymous said...

I went along and thought it was great to actually meet candidates face to face and to hear what they had to say.

I did feel some sympathy for the women representing the right as it was hardly a home audience for them. They still did a good job of putting forward what was important for their parties.

I do think it would have been great to see more people come along, but it was the third election event at Auckland uni that day. Perhaps by that point people had been electioned-out for the time being?

Thanks enormously! And the cupcakes were delicious.