Celebrating 130 Years of Aotearoa New Zealand Granting Women’s Right to Vote

Celebrating 130 Years of Aotearoa New Zealand Granting Women’s Right to Vote
Photo Source: People Holding Colored Paper Cardboard with White Text, by Anna Shvets via Pexels, 13 February 2021


Jessica Schwarz

Women’s Rights Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

19 September 2023 marks the 130 year anniversary of Aotearoa New Zealand’s signing of
the Electoral Bill on 19 September 1893 and becoming the first self-governing nation to give
women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The Bill was the outcome of years of
advocacy, led by Kate Sheppard, with women often travelling considerable distances to hear
lectures and speeches, pass resolutions and sign petitions. As a result, Sheppard’s
contribution to Aotearoa New Zealand’s history and women’s rights has been acknowledged
on the $10 note. Wāhine Māori, women of the indigenous Māori people, were also at the
forefront of the suffragist movement in supporting the right to vote for members of the New
Zealand House of Representatives and fighting for their own right to vote and to stand as
members of Te Kotahitanga – the Māori Parliament (Manatū Wāhine Ministry for Women,
2023). Nevertheless, women in New Zealand still had a long way to go to achieve political
equality as they couldn’t stand for Parliament until 1919.

In recent years, women have held each of the country’s key constitutional positions, from
prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general
to chief justice. In 2023, 61% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Members of Parliament were
female, compared with 9% in 1981 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2023). This is
reflective of an increase of female representation and participation, as well as gender
equality, in politics worldwide. However, data from UN Women reveals that women remain
underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide and that achieving gender parity
in political life is unlikely to happen before 2063 (UN Women, 2023). As we celebrate
Aotearoa New Zealand’s great first step for women in politics, we should also reflect on modern day efforts that continue to champion, advocate and fight for women’s rights in
politics and beyond.

Sources and further readings:
Manatū Wāhine Ministry for Women (2023) History of Women’s Suffrage in Aotearoa New
Zealand, Manatū Wāhine Ministry for Women, Retrieved on 18 September 2023 from

Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2023) New Zealand women and the vote, New Zealand
History, Retrieved on 18 September 2023 from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage 

UN Women (2023, 7 March) Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political
participation, UN Women, Retrieved on 18 September 2023 from https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-