I must have been about five or six when I asked my parents why Kate Sheppard was on the ten dollar note. They told me that she helped New Zealand become the first country to give women the vote.
I was so proud to be a New Zealander once I learned that. A young girl, suddenly so proud to belong to a country that held such an important and amazing claim to fame. And even now, as a young woman, I still am.
Sometimes I do feel a bit frustrated that, even though we were first, it took us until 1893 to achieve this. Why on earth did it take so long? What were men so afraid of? Why did they not want to ‘give’ women the vote? But, I am so immensely proud and in awe of the women – and men – who never gave up, despite the years of ‘no.’
A few years ago in Oamaru, Elizabeth and Pauline, two incredibly lovely ladies who had taken me under their wing, asked if I wanted to join them in the Grand Parade as a suffragette. My answer was definitely yes, absolutely, I would be delighted to honour those who fought the great fight.
It’s something that I look forward to every year now – marching alongside other women all brandishing signs and sending up the cry ‘votes for women!’
This year, the 19th of September marks 124 years since it became possible for women to join men at the polls and to help choose who will be responsible for guiding our country. And, it’s an election year. Election Day falls on the 23rd, only four days after this date.
This election is going to be a very interesting one, there have been leadership changes in more than one party, scandals, and more interesting viewing than any reality television show could ever provide. Labour has a new leader, Jacinda Ardern, and she is in the running to become not only (I think), the youngest prime minister this country has had, but to also become New Zealand’s third (and second elected) woman prime minister.
On Election Day I will be there, at my local polling station, ready to cast my vote, eager to have my say as to who should govern our country. I will also be remembering and paying my respects to those strong women who came before me and fought so that I can go and cast my vote.
I find it astounding that so many voters don’t bother voting. It would be fascinating to see what our government would look like if every eligible voter voted but, alas, I don’t think that that will ever happen. Perhaps, in a way, it makes my vote count even more… I don’t know. But I do know that if I didn’t have the right to cast my vote then I would be fighting to have it and I would like to hope that I would have the courage and determination of my forebears.