NZ PM leads suffrage milestone celebration

New Zealand is celebrating 125 years since becoming the first country to give all women the vote.
New Zealand is celebrating 125 years since becoming the first country to give all women the vote.

New Zealand's prime minister is leading ceremonies as the nation celebrates 125 years since becoming the first in the world to give all women the vote.

With events taking place around the country, Jacinda Ardern led a suffrage anniversary march through central Auckland at dawn on Wednesday.

Speaking to the crowd she paid tribute to both trailblazing women of the past and the strides still needed to be made towards equality.

"The issues they fought for, economic independence, freedom from violence, equal pay, they're all issues we continue to grapple with," she said.

Ms Ardern's great-great-grandmother was among the 25,519 women who put their names on the petition that led to women winning the vote in New Zealand in 1893 - a first for any self-governed nation.

Meanwhile, in the capital, union members dressed in 19th-century garb wheeled a petition-filled barrel onto parliament's steps, re-enacting a historic delivery to coincide with a government announcement of new pay equity legislation.

The bill is designed to make it easier for workers in female-dominated industries to address pay discrimination.

While the milestone has been a matter of national pride and festivities, the anniversary has this year also prompted discussions about ongoing gender inequality, in particular the gender pay gap and New Zealand's exceptionally high rate of reported family violence.

Led by iconic suffragette Kate Sheppard - depicted on New Zealand's $10 bill - the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union organised a series of mass petitions in the early 1890s and, combined with political manoeuvring within parliament, won the right to vote in the 1893 election.

Some 82 per cent of women over the age of 21 turned out for the vote.

The progress became a core part of New Zealand's reputation as a "social laboratory".

Australia was quick to follow, with South Australia giving women the vote in 1894, Western Australia in 1899 and the federal government in 1902, but exempting Aboriginal women.

Australian Associated Press