In 1893, the women of New Zealand, as we often do, led the world. We led the charge that resulted in a world first. A woman’s right to vote.
126 years on, the thought of women being ineligible to vote is hard to imagine. This Suffrage Day, as we celebrate this important milestone, we look back and reflect on where we’ve been, and we’re headed.
In 1893, the Liberal Party, now the National Party, was at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement. Led by the Party’s founder and former-Premier, John Ballance, the pro-women's suffrage members of the Liberals worked across Parliament to ensure women secured the right to vote. They were successful.
But things didn’t stop there. In 1919, the Liberal and Reform parties (which later merged into National) were the first in New Zealand to stand female candidates. Rosetta Baume and Ellen Melville stood for Parliament in the seats of Parnell and Grey Lynn. Although both were unsuccessful, they were trailblazers for women aspiring to be future political leaders.
Political leaders such as National MP Ruth Richardson, who in 1990 was appointed the first female Minister of Finance. In doing so, our Party broke the stereotype that women were only suited towards more “social policy” roles within Cabinet.
And in 1997, National’s Jenny Shipley made history by becoming the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand, an achievement that Kate Shepperd and the suffragettes of the 1800s would have only dreamed of. Shipley proved that women really could do it all.
Our present day National Party is just as progressive in championing women’s rights and involvement in politics. Women make up 40% of our top 20 MPs (compared with just 25% of Jacinda Ardern’s current Cabinet). Our own Young Nats national executive team is 45% female, and our board of directors sits at 33% female, significantly higher than the national average of 24%.
We’re proud that this gender equality has been achieved not through gender quotas, but by women in our party having the tools and opportunities to achieve success on their own merits. The likes of our Women’s Advisory Group and annual Women Influencing National Conference are just some of the ways that we are encouraged to continue leading the way in promoting women’s involvement and success in politics.
Our party also continues to campaign for better rights for all Kiwi women. Take Louise Upston’s 3-Day Stay Bill, which guarantees every new mother at least three days’s postnatal care. Or the Young Nats' support of Positive Periods, a campaign to make period products accessible to all high school students. Whether a suffragette of the 1800s, or one of our incredible female caucus or party members in 2019, we all share a common passion for true equality in our society.
As women involved in National, we are proud on this day in particular to celebrate our party’s strong history of supporting women’s rights, and recognise our role as modern advocates of this important kaupapa.
We’re proud to be women in politics, and we’re proud to be women in National.
This article is authored by the women of the Young Nats National Executive - Pereen Singh, Stephanie-Anne Ross, Neve Williams, Shelley Addison-Bell, and Kathleen Williams. Here's what they have to say about why they're proud to be women in National-
"I’m proud to be part of a party that stands for equal opportunities no matter where you start from in life." - Shelley Addison-Bell, Northern Regional Chair
"As a woman in the Party, I have been given endless opportunities and support. This has empowered me to keep knocking down barriers and to ensure there is always path for more women to rise up." - Pereen Singh, Vice President
"National empowers their female members through shared knowledge, quality time, and team work. National women lift one another up and advocate for the needs of all women." - Neve Williams, National Membership Officer
"I am proud to be a woman in National because my ability to succeed isn't underestimated through gender quotas. Instead I am empowered by the tools the Party gives me to achieve.” - Stephanie-Anne Ross, National Secretary
"As a woman in National, I'm surrounded by an abundance of strong, talented women who inspire me, challenge me, and support me to speak up and lead. I'm so proud our party continues to advocate for women across New Zealand." - Kathleen Williams, Creative Director