As New Zealand celebrates 125 years of women's suffrage Dr Sandra Velarde shares her story from her homeland of Peru where the right for all to vote became legal only 39 years ago.

"It's very, very different here," she said.

Velarde's international research career has taken her to Kenya, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Italy and now New Zealand. She moved here in 2014.

As a Homeward Bound alumni, she recently returned from an expedition to Antarctica to help improve the role of women in science. Its slogan is "Mother nature needs her daughters".


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Homeward Bound is a leadership programme which aims to increase the impact of women in science.

If Velarde had been born only 30 years earlier, she may not have been able to legally vote in her home country, she said.

"Suffrage for women was enacted in my country in 1956 and even then, while women were allowed to vote, it was only for those who could read and write.

"Women were already starting to enter the workforce and there had been more than 20 years of activism, but mostly the president had a very pushy wife.

"It wasn't until 1979, a year after I was born, that illiterate people were also given the right."

She said there was still an issue of disparity in education, where it wasn't available for all women or for the "disenfranchised indigenous population".

"In Peru, there is still a lot of discrimination in law, against women and the indigenous population. It is crazy."


In the 1400s, during the Inca period, Peru was run as a matriarchal society.

"Once colonisation came, everything changed and now we're fighting for the rights we actually once had," Velarde said.

"The number of women who sit in boards in decision-making positions is still very low.

"There are few countries where that reaches 30 per cent and even then that's far from equality at 50 per cent."

She said she would like to see equality across the board.

"Not just for women but for all the voices that need to be heard, the young, the poor, the indigenous, all races, all people."