Our Wahine, Are we there yet? And WANTOK: Celebrating Women during Suffrage 125

3 years ago by

Written by Lana Lopesi

Graphic Matters is a monthly column on issues and ideas related to New Zealand Design Culture

This year marks 125 years since New Zealand were “vigorously campaigning to achieve the right to vote and would finally win that right in September of 1893”. To mark that accomplishment and the subsequent achievements for women since then the Ministry for Women, Te Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine has launched Suffrage 125 celebrations, a combination of activities and events across Aotearoa which “will recognise New Zealanders from diverse cultural backgrounds that have contributed to progressing women’s rights.”

National commemorations just as this one as well as International Women’s Day often come under fire, especially since we are such a long way to go from genuine equality. The World Econonmic Forum’s experts calculated that it will take 217 years for disparities in the pay and employment opportunities of men and women to end. And we know here in Aotearoa that these affects are felt disproportionately by Asian, Māori and then Pacific women. And Alison Mau launched #metooNZ, with a dedicated team of senior journalists looking into cases from all industries. With an eye to these current controversies, struggles and imbalances that exist for women it’s a relief to take a brief moment of pause to celebrate, commemorate and acknowledge some awesome projects by awesome women redesigning the narrative.

Our Wahine is one project created for Suffrage 125 by artist Kate Hurthouse, which an ambitious illustrated history of “New Zealand’s extraordinary women”. Between March and September, Hurthouse will be illustrating 125 women from New Zealand’s history with accompanying text written and researched by her mother Karen Brook. As their website states, this “mother/daughter passion project aims to create a visually exciting and accessible overview of the role of New Zealand women throughout history.” They are open to accepting suggestions and recommendations and you can do that by emailing them.

Auckland Museum is marking the milestone with a free exhibition titled Are We There Yet? Women and Equality in Aotearoa which celebrates “125 years of suffrage in New Zealand with a contemporary exhibition that uses this historic anniversary as a springboard to examine the successes and speed-bumps of gender equality so far, and where to next.” Not shying away from confronting conversations, “reproductive rights, gendered violence, online trolling, equal pay, legal rights and body image” are all up for interrogation.

Curated by Luisa Tora, WANTOK is an exhibition of Melanesian artists from Australia and Aotearoa on at Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā tohu o Uenuku which explore, “hair culture and the spiritual and symbolic meaning of the head and hair in many Pacific cultures”. In their own words, “WANTOK provides the opportunity to recover and re-articulate Melanesian knowledges and practice following migration, and allow a decolonialised view of beauty and mana to develop.”

While no one is denying (least of all me), that the realities for women achieving equality is a long way to go, what a great reprieve it is from the patriarchy to stop and acknowledge ourselves and those around us. Take some time to get involved in the Suffrage 125 commemorations, for a full list of activities check out their website.

Anyone can organise a Suffrage 125 event. If you are planning an event or activity related to Suffrage 125 then here a few things you can do:

  • submit a Suffrage 125-related activity on our event page
  • share your Suffrage 125 event details and other information on our Facebook page(/Suffrage125) or use the hashtag #Suffrage125
  • use the Suffrage 125 symbolto help promote your event
  • connect with other organisations in your region or city celebrating Suffrage 125.


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