Women’s Suffrage Day in New Zealand
September 18, 2013
It’s hard to imagine a time in New Zealand where things were not as equal as they are now, but this has historically been the case. Prior to 1893, voting in New Zealand elections was a solely male activity. However, on the 19th of September that year, after much petitioning and campaigning by New Zealand women, the Parliament of the day extended the right to vote to Kiwi women, both Maori and Pakeha. This made New Zealand the first country in the world to allow women to vote in Parliamentary elections.
After the successful campaign for equal voting rights, women’s interest in political activism remained heightened. Support for equal status within marriage was strong from women’s groups in New Zealand, as well as support for equal divorce laws and an end to violence against women. Historically, married women were the property of their husbands. Married women had no right to their own property, were unable to divorce their husbands unless a number of circumstances existed, were unable to testify against their husbands and were not able to be guardians of their children after a divorce. Essentially, women’s identities were subsumed into their husbands, making the marriage one entity – his. Laws were needed to change all of these things and to ensure that women were afforded equality within their marriages. In this sense, equality within marriage has come a long way, with 21st century marriages now including same-sex couples.
In 1982, a significant piece of legislation, the Domestic Protection Act, was passed to protect victims of domestic violence. This Act was designed to facilitate efforts to reduce domestic violence in New Zealand and made changes to the Crimes Act. 1995 saw the passing of the Domestic Violence Act, which rectified some of the flaws of the 1982 Act. It included a new definition of violence, Protection Orders and compulsory programme attendance for violent persons.
Most recently, Police Safety Orders were introduced in 2010 which Police say gives them more opportunity to make a difference to families suffering violence. Police Safety Orders require any person who represents a threat to others to leave the premises for up to five days. These orders are unique in that they allow the Police to take action in situations where they may only suspect someone is a threat or they are unable to charge someone with an offence. These orders give families time to gather their thoughts and to get in touch with support agencies to help improve their situation.
The passage of laws such as the Domestic Violence Act and the criminalisation of marital rape are relatively recent, however these laws are an important part of New Zealand’s legal framework and go some way to preventing violence against women. However, violence against women remains a huge issue, with one in three women experiencing violence during her lifetime. So while these laws are important, there is still a long way to go to envision the dream of a violence-free Aotearoa.