Issue date
22 September 2023

On 19 September, Manatū Wāhine Ministry for Women and Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa National Library of New Zealand hosted ‘Across the Generations: Commemorating 130 years of Women’s Suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand’ to celebrate 130 years since the passing of the Electoral Act 1893 which enshrined into law the right for women to vote in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The event was a powerful reminder of the incredible strides that have been made towards gender equality, and the inspiring women who have paved the way.

We were joined by some incredible wāhine from across the generations who shared their perspectives and stories, including chief archivist Anahera Morehu, historian Barbara Brookes, filmmakers Dame Gaylene Preston and Nina Nawalowalo ONZM, artist Kate Hursthouse and her Mum Karen Brook, Helene Leaf and changemakers Julia Whaipooti, Alyce Lysaght, and Hope Cotton.

In the lead up to the event, the speakers shared with us some of their thoughts about what suffrage means to them. For Julia Whaipooti, suffrage represents a step in a western system towards recognising mana inherent in all wāhine. Alyce Lysaght spoke of the opportunity to honour those who have fought for where we are today, and Hope Cotton said it symbolises the importance of continuing to fight for women in Aotearoa and advocating for those who still face barriers to voting.

What’s clear is that suffrage is less about the rights of women and more about the responsibility we all have to honour its legacy.

The intergenerational kōrero not only highlighted the amazing accomplishments of wāhine in Aotearoa, but also acknowledged that more needs to be done to continue the fight to break down the barriers and obstacles that still exist for women today.

All speakers spoke of the importance of sharing the stories of wāhine – both the ordinary and the extraordinary – because every woman has a story that can inspire us, and these stories are what help drive change.

“Talk to your grandmas and your nanas and your aunties because those stories are as important,” said Karen Brook.  

We are immensely grateful to all who joined us, both in person and online, for contributing to the event’s success. Thank you also to the Archives NZ team who provided a tour of the Suffrage Petition in He Tohu, and for sharing the role you play in looking after this amazing taonga.

Watch the recording of this session.

Panel pose for photo at s130 event

Speakers from the Suffrage 130 event pose for a photo. L-R: Kate Hursthouse and son Arlo, Karen Brook, Alyce Lysaght, Helene Leaf, Nina Nawalowalo, Dame Gaylene Preston, Barbara Brookes, Hope Cotton, Julia Whaipooti, Kellie Coombes (Chief Executive Ministry for Women; Secretary for Women). Photo credit: Celeste Fontein.

Anahera Morehu speaks at podium, suffrage 130 projected onto screen in auditorium

Anahera Morehu, Chief Archivist, opens the Across the Generations event at the National Library, 19 September 2023. Photo credit: Celeste Fontein.

Panel at S130 event

Hope Cotton (third from right) speaks at the Suffrage 130 event. L-R: Helene Leaf, Alyce Lysaght, Nina Nawalowalo, Hope Cotton, Dame Gaylene Preston, Julia Whaipooti. Photo credit: Celeste Fontein.