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Call to mark Centenary of Women’s Parliamentary Rights in NZ

Hamilton group TOTI is calling for an ‘almost invisible’ piece of national history to be publicly acknowledged next week.

Tuesday is the centenary of the 1919 Women’s Parliamentary Rights Act which for the first time allowed women to stand for election to the House of Representatives - to become MPs.

TOTI’s Margaret Evans, Hamilton’s first woman mayor (1989-98), says “it’s great to see renewed interest in New Zealand history, and some significant episodes need more public visibility.” She believes Tuesday’s centenary is “extra special not just for women, but for the entire nation, with women now being voted into top positions all over, record numbers in this month’s council elections, and Paula Southgate as Hamilton mayor (as well as Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister).“

Last year New Zealand celebrated ‘Suffrage 125’ and women’s right to vote in 1893. But few knew women were still prohibited from Parliament before the 1919 law. Evans says “It was the 1940s when Hamilton electors finally supported two marvellous women, both social activists in their day and committed to a better future for the people.”

Dame Hilda Ross, Hamilton’s first woman councillor and deputy mayor, was elected National MP in 1945 and Iriaka Ratana for the Western Maori seat for Labour in 1949. Iriaka Ratana was New Zealand’s first Maori woman MP.

“Hilda Ross and Iriaka Ratana were not only inspirational leaders, they were remarkable for their collaboration and their care for the families they represented.” says Pirihira Kaio (the first Maori woman elected to Hamilton City Council). “These were our pioneers, long-serving MPs, colleagues and friends, working together to promote wellbeing and we should remember them. Marking history like this sheds light on the political progress women have made but also inspires others to follow in their footsteps,” Ms Kaio says.

TOTI and their advisors have been holding community conversations on plans for a commemorative artwork acknowledging the two women leaders.

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