Women and the vote

Page 1 – Introduction

Suffrage and beyond

On 19 September 1893 the governor, Lord Glasgow, signed a new Electoral Act into law. As a result of this landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

In most other democracies – including Britain and the United States – women did not win the right to the vote until after the First World War. New Zealand’s world leadership in women’s suffrage became a central part of our image as a trail-blazing ‘social laboratory’.

That achievement was the result of years of effort by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard. In 1891, 1892 and 1893 they compiled a series of massive petitions calling on Parliament to grant the vote to women. In recent years Sheppard’s contribution to New Zealand’s history has been acknowledged on the $10 note.

Today, the idea that women could not or should not vote is completely foreign to New Zealanders. In 2013, 32% of Members of Parliament are female, compared with 13% in 1984. In the early 21st century women have held each of the country’s key constitutional positions: prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general and chief justice.

How to cite this page

'New Zealand women and the vote', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/womens-suffrage, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-Jul-2014