10years ago as Minister of Women’s Affairs I reminded people of the struggle they went through. This was not won easy.
Kate Sheppard and her colleagues were tireless in their campaign which took on a head of steam in 1887 - distributing pamphlets, writing letters to the press, giving talks to a variety of groups, making personal contact with politicians, and of course circulating petitions.
Kate Sheppard believed that women could not make any of the changes needed in society without first winning the right the vote.
I’m not going to traverse the entire history, which is well known to us all.
Suffrage bills were defeated in Parliament in 1888, 1891 and 1892, but Kate Sheppard and other suffragists continued to campaign for the vote.
And it was on the 19th of September 1893, that Prime Minister Richard Seddon telegraphed Kate Sheppard to tell her the governor had signed the bill that gave New Zealand women the vote.
And this is the point I want to make today. The 1893 elections were held in late November, and over 90,000 women – representing 65 percent of women over 21 – exercised their new right to vote. That’s extraordinary given the need to enrol women and get them to the polls, especially when it was by no means universally accepted that women should be voting.
It is shows a complete lack of respect for these achievements if we don't vote.
When Kate Sheppard died in Christchurch on 13 July 1934, the Christchurch Times said:
‘A great woman has gone, whose name will remain an inspiration to the daughters of New Zealand while our history endures.’
I want that inspiration to continue to reach all New Zealanders, but particularly to the daughters of our country. I want them to claim their rights as citizens and to accept the responsibility these rights bestow.
I said on Friday when I opened the National Council of Women Conference - Kate Sheppard knew it wasn’t just about the vote.
She understood that this was only a first step towards equality when a National Council of Women gathered here for the first in Christchurch on the 13 April 1896 just three years after winning the right to vote.
And that's why I say it is disrespectful to Kate Sheppard, the women who stood with her and the men who cast the votes earning the right to wear the white camellia, to choose not to vote. That is not a valid choice.
My message is ‘use it or lose it’. We won’t lose the vote, but we do lose the right to influence the direction our nation takes.
And that’s much too important to let go.