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Unveiling of the Kate Sheppard National Memorial

Issue date: 
Sunday, 19 September 1993
The Hon Dame Catherine Tizard, GCMG, GCVO, DBE, QSO

Your Worship, Your Excellency the President of Ireland, Honourable Minister, gentlemen and ladies.

We've rediscovered and reclaimed a lot of valuable history, this last year in New Zealand. We've remembered just how it came about that New Zealand was the first nation anywhere to extend the franchise to women.

The history of the suffrage movement has been re-examined in the light of modern scholarship - and rather than diminishing the record, the blowing away of the cobwebs of smugness and national self-congratulation has enhanced our admiration for the great achievements of these women. They were women who pursued a noble cause with honour, courage and perseverance.

But now it's time to apply this restored perspective in the progress of our country. It's time to employ our continued education to consider, where do we go from here?

If I can quote Vanessa Baird, the editor of the New Internationalist - she said last year: "The time is right for action. We are at a stage, worldwide, when women's rights could leap into the future - or be thrust back into a Dark Age. There is a window of opportunity. The question is, can women hold that window open and help each other through to the next stage, or will it be slammed shut in their faces with the force of the backlash?"

Examine the campaign for suffrage, and you soon notice that we have achieved only some of the goals they were aiming for, a century ago. We've taken most of the formal steps, it's the cultural changes that have yet to be completed.

The broad nature of the cultural changes we need, I suggested in a short message for the Memorial's time capsule. They are: "To balance men's and women's opportunities in life, to equalise women's and men's ability to participate fully in the world of work, and to better share the responsibilities of family life ...

May Suffrage Centennial Year have the transforming result we wish for - (that) New Zealanders ... formulate and share a vision of what equality between men and women would involve, and together affirm its profound benefits ..."

We have some acknowledgements to make - to Dame Miriam Dell and her team at the Suffrage Centennial Trust - and to Women Towards 2000 Incorporated, with a special mention for the fundraisers. Both groups have shown the tirelessness and focus of the original suffrage campaigners - one of the bequests left to us by Kate Sheppard and her fellow suffragists, seems to be a living tradition.

If Kate Sheppard's spirit is looking down at us today, I think that while she might be disappointed at some of what she sees, she would also smile to see that her memorial is being unveiled by a woman Governor-General, in the presence of a woman President, a woman Mayor, a woman cabinet minister and women MPs. So may it be clear to everyone who ever passes by, her Memorial's function is not to mark the final resting place of a set of goals. Instead, it is a physical reminder of the need to keep making progress towards them.

I am proud and delighted to unveil the Kate Sheppard National Memorial to Women's Suffrage.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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