Carey Mulligan stars in a riveting true story about the struggle for women’s emancipation.

Seeing Sarah Gavron's Suffragette wrenched my eyes open. Telling the battle of the movement to win the vote for women in 20th century Britain, Suffragette provided a harrowing snapshot into the historical - and unfortunately still present - struggle for true equality for women.

It forced me to think about New Zealand, and the way we choose to commemorate our pioneering suffrage movement, which began a cool 35 years earlier than our big sisters in Britain.

I'm ashamed to admit that during my university years, I would sullenly trudge up the stairs of Khartoum Place in Auckland's CBD every day, absentmindedly passing the black and white faces immortalised on the giant suffrage memorial.

Each morning I encountered Amey Daldy, Elisabeth Yates, Anne Ward and the brave faces of other women who valiantly campaigned for women's voting rights all those years ago. And I didn't stop to look at them.


Suffragette made me realise just how crucial this historical movement was in securing women's rights for ungrateful cretins like me, who because of them are free to attend university and vote for whatever ugly flag I want.

Sure, script is hokey at times, and the film features a shockingly small amount of Meryl Streep considering her billing, but the historical event at its core transcends these finicky notes. I couldn't fathom the physical and emotional violence, and even the lives dramatically lost in the battle for equal rights.

Why did it take 24 years and watching a film to learn about them?

I attended a girls school, and I am perturbed to admit I was taught nothing about the suffrage movement abroad, or even in our own ground-breaking backyard.

If the only exposure we get to this monumental historical moment is whenever we have a crisp wad of Kate Sheppards in our wallets, then something has really gone wrong.

My fingers are crossed that my school was the exception and that Emmeline Pankhurst, Sheppard and their sisters take pride and place in history classes next to the likes of Martin Luther King and Gandhi.

It's no Suffragette spoiler to reveal that women in Britain (of a particular privileged social standing) were granted the vote in 1918 and that treat was extended to all women in 1928.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, women had been enjoying the privilege of equality for over 35 years. That's a national accomplishment to be yelled about, one that deserves far more recognition than the piddly crowd that turned up to the anniversary celebrations at the memorial last year.

Suffragette not only reveals the police brutality and extremism brought about by militant oppression, but the effect speaking out had on women in the home and the community.

The lead character, Maud, played by Carey Mulligan, is a meek laundry worker who can no longer force her gaze away from the daily subjugation of women in employment and at a government level.

Maud becomes increasingly interested in the suffrage movement but as she finds herself drawn in she becomes more and more disenfranchised from her home, her work and her family. Strangers yell at her in the street, her child is taken away and her husband turns his back on her cause and her.

Empowered by the need for equality, she stands up against her boss who has been openly sexually harassing his workers for years. Sadly, scenes like these still ring true in 2016. Maud is left homeless, with nothing but a warm cup of broth and a belly full of fire.

I realise how lucky I am that the worst comment I've had when I stand up for other women is an angry man making very unpleasant personal comments about my body in the comments section of a website.

But I am privileged, and I have New Zealand's suffragists to thank for some of that.
The struggle for equality that continues in other parts of the world is still overwhelming. It's important to note that just last year, women in Saudi Arabia were granted a vote in the local body elections.

That's if they could get a man to drive them to the booth, because women are banned from driving.

Woman might not have equality everywhere in the world, but if films like these continue to shed light on the power of women throughout history, they help empower us today.
All we need now is for New Zealand to re-immortalise our own suffragists on the big screen and for women to, in the words of Emmeline Pankhurst, "never surrender, never give up the fight".