Saturday, November 26, 2011

Remembering Kate Sheppard with Gratitude

Today is voting day for the 2011 General Election here in New Zealand. We are voting on who we want to represent us in Parliament for the next 3 years and on whether we want to keep the voting system we currently have (MMP - Mixed Member Proportional representation) or change it to another system.

I walked dawn to our local school in beautiful sunshine, voted without having to wait in a line, smiled and said hello to others from my community who were doing likewise and walked home again, reflecting how easy it was and how lucky we are. How lucky that it is so simple and that it is such a peaceful experience to be able to have your say - unlike the experience for people in many countries around the world who expose themselves to violence and danger by expressing their opinion on who should run their country.

And I reflected on the remarkable achievement of Kate Sheppard, our most prominent suffragette who fought hard to gain the vote for women here in New Zealand - the first country in the world to extend the vote to women. A couple of weeks ago when Barak Obama was in Australia he mistakenly commented that Australia was the first country. Let's make no mistake about this - it was New Zealand and it happened in 1893. South Australia followed soon after in 1894 but it wasn't extended across Australia as a whole until 1902. These things are important when you are from the smaller country!

Kate Sheppard is on our $10 note and is thereby part of our daily lives.

Kate rests in Addington Cemetery in Christchurch, her headstone flanked by two Camellia trees, the flower of which was used as the symbol of the suffragettes. This photo was taken when I was in Christchurch over the New Year. Even at that time there were many damaged gravestones from the earlier earthquake in September last year. I know that there has been much more damage to headstones from the February quake - I hope that Kate's headstone is still standing proud. She was a remarkable woman. 

Others have written more eloquently than me on the importance of voting - Dana Fisher, The Quilted Librarian, wrote a great post last year urging us all to remember the sacrifices that many women have made in the past so that we can vote with such ease today. She also gave a link to a fascinating piece on the American suffragettes and their struggles, which I had no idea about until I read her blog.

If you are in New Zealand make sure you take this three yearly opportunity to get out and vote - and remember with gratitude Kate Sheppard and the other women who fought so hard to give us this right and to help make us world leaders.

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