When the global #MeToo movement hit New Zealand shores last year it gave a name to the battle Millennials picked up from the women who went before them.

And it became a defining moment in modern feminism.

It marked the moment women across the world and from all walks of life decided they were no longer going to take sexual harassment in the workplace or elsewhere. Where the 1970s protests took place on the streets, this one was on social media.

Generation X and the Millennials called time on behaviour that had been tolerated too long and spoke out.

Advertisement

Today's edition of the New Zealand Herald, guest edited by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, marks the 125th anniversary of the day a bill giving women the right to vote was signed into law – the first country in the world to do so.

Today we celebrate that anniversary and the work of Kate Sheppard and her Christian Women's Temperance Union colleagues, and Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia who was instrumental in securing the vote for Māori women.

We also mark progress made since then, and the women and men who secured it.

In editing the edition, the Prime Minister said she wanted to capture "something of what a newspaper would look like if the stories and voices of women were heard on a more regular basis". She also wanted to highlight how "within the ordinary, sits the extraordinary".

History will show New Zealand has made significant progress - but there is much still to do.

Jacinda Ardern (centre) in the Herald newsroom last night as guest editor of today's Suffrage 125 anniversary edition. To her left is premium content editor Miriyana Alexander. Photo / Michael Craig
Jacinda Ardern (centre) in the Herald newsroom last night as guest editor of today's Suffrage 125 anniversary edition. To her left is premium content editor Miriyana Alexander. Photo / Michael Craig

New Zealand has now had three women Prime Ministers and now, as in 2001, the three top jobs in the land are all held by women – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Chief Justice Sian Elias, and Governor-General Patsy Reddy.

Rebecca Kitteridge is director of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, NZ Rugby has its first woman board member and Federated Farmers has its first woman president in Katie Milne.

And on the world stage we celebrate women like singer Lorde, author Eleanor Catton, actresses Anna Paquin and Lucy Lawless, golfer Lydia Ko, and the Black Ferns.

But women are still underrepresented on boards and in senior management, especially in the private sector.

New Zealand has never had a woman as Minister of Foreign Affairs and only one woman – Ruth Richardson – has served as Finance Minister. A woman has never held the role of Treasury Secretary and Margaret Wilson remains the only woman to have served as Speaker.

Gains for women did not only come from protest, strident voices or international achievement.

It came from the quieter changes in our homes, in things that were once rare becoming commonplace.

Every day across the country, women are working, solving problems, many juggling multiple commitments and raising families. Stay-at-home dads are more commonplace as women return to work instead.

But the #MeToo action against sexual harassment in the workplace also illustrates that is it not time to rest easy yet.

Feminists come with many different political views, but ask any what problems remain and they list the terrible and seemingly interminable problem of family violence, despite repeated concerted efforts to address it through legislation and front line resources.

There are the longstanding bugbears of pay equity and pay equality – of "women's jobs" paying less than men's jobs which have similar levels of skill and experience, and of women being paid less than men to do the same job.

Women are still underrepresented on company boards and in management, and in many industries.

Some of the changes feminists of the 1970s fought for also still linger. In the 70s fights for better access to contraception and abortion, they chanted "Not the church and not the state, women must decide our fate."

Abortion is a crime except where the health of the mother or baby is at risk, the mother is not mentally capable to have the baby or the baby was conceived from incest. It has been left to some doctors to interpret that liberally for women to have any so-called choice.

Ardern has undertaken to review the abortion law and a Law Commission report is due back soon. But it remains a divisive issue. History shows such zeal for reform can wane once votes are at stake.

Each generation has had its battles.

The wartime women fought to hold on to gains war had presented in the workforce and for education opportunities for their daughters.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern edits the New Zealand Herald 125 years of suffrage edition. Photo / Michael Craig
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern edits the New Zealand Herald 125 years of suffrage edition. Photo / Michael Craig

Those daughters - the Baby Boomers - took up the baton with the great wave of feminist activism. There were the bra burnings and mass protests on issues such as rape and abortion law reform and contraceptive access.

It left Generation X in a place to move the fight to board rooms and offices, pushing for positions in professional occupations previously dominated by men.

The Millennials' #MeToo was the child of protests such as the Take Back the Night marches that began in the 1970s against rape and sexual harassment. The slogan was coined by social activist Tarana Burke in 2006. It was picked up by actress Alyssa Milano in 2017 after allegations by prominent actresses against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

In New Zealand it manifested itself in cases such as the summer clerks challenging the culture at law firm Russell McVeagh.

As is so often the case, it takes one person deciding to damn the consequences and speak out to make change for all.

So too the biggest leap for pay equity came when care worker Kristine Bartlett called time, went to court and eventually secured a breakthrough agreement which will benefit other women in sectors dominated by women.

Those women stand on the shoulders of those who went before, those who fought to vote, those who did vote, and those who took to the streets, the boardrooms, the courts, the sports fields or stages when that vote did not deliver enough.

We salute each and every one.

From Guest Editor, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

It has been an honour to guest edit this Suffrage anniversary edition of the Herald. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility to not only capture something of what a newspaper would look like if the stories and voices of women were heard on a more regular basis, but to highlight how, within the ordinary, sits the extraordinary. While I have guided and directed a large part of the content, including having a focus on women in sport, in business and as columnists, content and placement of political stories was the decision of the news editor. As I said when the idea was first put to me, summing up 125 years of women's experience in one issue was going to be an impossible task. However I hope that wherever you are, whatever you do, whether young, older or in between, this edition has captured your voice in some way.