New Zealand was the first in the world to grant women the vote — that's something worth celebrating. And Kate Sheppard, a Christchurch wife and mother, was the woman mainly responsible for this milestone in our history. But I wonder how she'd feel if she could see what's happening with the women's movement in New Zealand today.

For Kate, in 1893, gaining the vote was just the means to an end — the prohibition of alcohol. A founding member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in New Zealand, she had concern for the many women and children living in poverty because men were spending the family income on alcohol.

The WCTU worked tirelessly for prohibition. But if women could vote, they'd be more able to achieve their goal. So it was due to the efforts of Kate and her fellow campaigners that New Zealand gained women's suffrage.

The WCTU was a Christian organisation for women. Not only temperance, where alcohol was concerned, the WCTU members were motivated by a desire for morality in all areas of family and community life. And they had a powerful influence on the National Council of Women when it was formed in 1896.

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So equal rights for women — but also the moral reform of society — were top of the NCW's agenda at that time. To achieve this included raising the age of consent to 21, teaching temperance in schools, establishing homes for alcoholics and rigorous enforcement of the liquor laws.

In 1919, a referendum gave Prohibition a majority of 13,000 votes over the status quo. Unfortunately for the women's movement, special votes from troops still overseas swung the vote the other way. Later, in 1919, another referendum included a third option: state purchase and control of the sale of alcohol. This time Prohibition lost narrowly — by only 1600 votes.

Almost 100 years later, and the pendulum has swung the other way. Alcohol is still a scourge on society, but the women's movement no longer fights for alcohol reform. Families still suffer from drunkards — but with gender equality, it's not just the fathers who get drunk. And TV shows us the drunken behaviour of teenage girls on our city streets.

Morality? The aims of today's women's movement would have been unthinkable to Kate Sheppard and her fellow Christian campaigners. Gender diversity, the unscientific notion that there's a limitless number of genders to be treated equally (not just male and female). Reproductive rights, the right for women to have sex without getting pregnant (contraception). And if a woman does become pregnant, the right to destroy the unborn baby (abortion).

As for the age of consent, today's school children are taught that it's normal to have sex of all varieties whenever they feel ready for it. The word abstinence, from alcohol or sex, is rarely heard in our liberal, pleasure-seeking society.

In Kate Sheppard's day New Zealand was a Christian country. Not to mean everyone was a Christian, but Christianity was an integral part of our culture. The Church and God's Word, the Bible, were respected. Judeo-Christian values formed the moral framework of our education system and all areas of society.

Boys grew up to be men, and most became husbands and fathers. Girls grew up to be women, and most became wives and mothers. Any practice of homosexuality was considered abnormal and abhorrent.

Parents taught their children the difference between right and wrong, and this was continued in the schools. Sex education was not part of the curriculum, but most schools allocated time for Christian education.

Children were also taught to respect their elders, and most of the time they did. If not, parents had the freedom to apply appropriate discipline. Children were also disciplined at school. And classrooms were places where teachers taught, children listened and learned, and a sense of order was maintained.

Not so any more. Children can run riot and teachers aren't allowed to touch them. Common sense has gone out the window, and with it the Christian values that made New Zealand a wonderful place to raise a family.

It's fine for single women to pursue a career, but the most important job for married women is raising the next generation of New Zealanders to be responsible citizens.

MARGARET BURGESS
RD2 Hastings