More than a century after New Zealand women won the vote, they continue to exercise the right more than men

Today is Suffrage Day, marking 124 years since the Governor, Lord Glasgow, approved the bill to allow virtually all women to vote.

In the general election held later that year, 1893, the voting turnout was 82 per cent of women on the electoral rolls and 70 per cent of men.

At the 2014 election, 76.1 per cent of women voted and 73.7 per cent of men, according to a study of 30,000 people on the rolls, by Professor Jack Vowles, of Victoria University, and colleagues.


"The difference is bigger the younger the person and narrows to little or nothing around age 50. The gap among 20-year-olds is about 7 per cent wide."

The National Council of Women is urging all women to vote.

"I think it is a hard-earned right," said the council's immediate-past president, Rae Duff. "They should all consider voting and be fully informed in the political process because unless they vote they have very little opportunity to influence policies in New Zealand."

Duff said winning the right for women to vote was incredibly important in the struggle for gender equality in New Zealand.

Despite New Zealand being the first self-governing country to allow virtually all women to vote in national elections for Parliament, it wasn't until 1919 that women were allowed to stand for Parliament. Even then it took until 1933 before we had our first woman MP, Elizabeth McCombs.

Campaigning on the slogan, "Vote the first Woman to the New Zealand Parliament", she won a vastly increased majority for Labour in the Lyttelton byelection that put her in the House following the death of her husband, James, who had held the seat.

Premier Richard Seddon was averse to women's suffrage, yet after the bill was passed asked women activists to give up
Premier Richard Seddon was averse to women's suffrage, yet after the bill was passed asked women activists to give up "all doubts as to the sincerity of the Government in this very important matter".

When the Herald asked Duff if a quota was needed to create gender equality in Parliament - women comprise just over one-third of MPs - she said the council's conference at the weekend had discussed the issue.

"We had a remit proposed ... which didn't mention quotas, but in effect it did not pass because people considered it was quotas, the argument being that the women would not be chosen for their skills. People would say, 'We had to get women into Parliament rather than the best person for the job.'


"That's our view. We need to increase women, we have lots of capable women who could work in Parliament, but we still believe it is the best person for the job."

Duff said council branches were holding functions to mark Women's Suffrage Day, including a party at her branch in Wellington at which many would wear white camellias, the women's franchise flower.

"We had lots [of white camellias] at our conference in Christchurch at the weekend. There is a Kate Sheppard camellia that many branches have in various gardens and they are in public gardens."

Sheppard, a leader in the 1890s franchise campaign, was elected first president of the National Council of Women, an organisation founded at a women's convention in Christchurch in 1896.