Still fight­ing for so­cial jus­tice:

de­scen­dants of New Zealand’s suf­fragettes

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

As New Zealand women head to the vot­ing booths, we hon­our those who fought for our right to vote. Ni­cola Rus­sell meets three Kiwi women who are de­scended from those who signed the suf­frage pe­ti­tion, and who are car­ry­ing on the fight for so­cial jus­tice to­day.

For broad­caster Mi­hin­garangi Forbes, ac­tivist and aca­demic Mar­i­lyn War­ing and young au­thor and pub­lic speaker Hana Olds, the gen­eral elec­tion is a time to cel­e­brate their an­ces­tors’ in­volve­ment in gain­ing New Zealand women the right to vote.

On the suf­frage pe­ti­tion dis­played at the He Tohu ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Li­brary in Wellington, they can see in black and white the names of their fore­bears who made it pos­si­ble for women to go to the polling booths and vote on who will lead our coun­try. The pe­ti­tion rep­re­sents, for each of them, a mo­ment etched in fam­ily his­tory, one that has helped shape their own at­ti­tudes to so­cial jus­tice.

These three re­mark­able women, who carry the genes of women who made his­tory 124 years ago, talk to us about how they are con­tin­u­ing the bat­tle for equal­ity to­day.

When Mar­i­lyn War­ing asked her grand­mother, Mary McSweeney, what her most im­por­tant mem­ory was, she told her about a day in Novem­ber

1893 when she was four years old.

“Her mother dressed her in her Sun­day best and then her fa­ther got the gig out. She knew it wasn’t Sun­day and she was very sur­prised at what was going on,” says Mar­i­lyn. “Then her mother drove her to the polling booth to ex­er­cise the first vote women had.

“I think it was so spe­cial that she un­der­stood it to be a day of such mo­ment that she took her four-yearold daugh­ter with her so she would al­ways re­mem­ber.”

When El­iza Jane lost her hus­band, she moved to Waioron­go­mai in the Waikato, where she met an­other Mary McSweeney – a woman Mar­i­lyn be­lieves was re­lated to El­iza Jane by mar­riage. It was this Mary whose name ap­pears on the suf­frage pe­ti­tion.

“In 1993, when the suf­frage pe­ti­tion went on dis­play, the Na­tional Li­brary re­pro­duced some pages from it and there was an en­tire page from Waioron­go­mai, out the back of Te Aroha,” says Mar­i­lyn. “Be­cause I knew Waioron­go­mai as a child, it gave me very good pic­tures of hav­ing to travel in the win­ter on horse­back to get these sig­na­tures. And women did this all over New Zealand.”

When Mar­i­lyn joined par­lia­ment in 1975, there had only ever been 13 women MPs. She faced a hard road ahead, not only as New Zealand’s 14th fe­male mem­ber of par­lia­ment, but at 23, the youngest ever mem­ber.

“It was like be­ing in a big gath­er­ing of grand­par­ents,” she says. “In my first Na­tional cab­i­net (1975-1984) I think there were only three peo­ple un­der 40; the ma­jor­ity had served in the armed forces dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, so it wasn’t just gen­der, it was this enor­mous leap to try to bridge the space be­tween the fem­i­nist move­ment and this cab­i­net of grandads.”

She says bridg­ing that gap was the most chal­leng­ing ex­pe­ri­ence she has ever had and de­scribes it as in­hab­it­ing two dif­fer­ent hemi­spheres.

“The men with power weren’t going to do the mov­ing, so what could I do to be ef­fec­tive in that en­vi­ron­ment? You just go to bat­tle re­ally – which is the na­ture of the place any­way.”

Her bat­tle tool was her in­tel­lect. She learnt to ask the right ques­tions.

“In my first term, for example, the Na­tional Party de­cided it would wage war on do­mes­tic pur­poses ben­e­fi­cia­ries for ‘rort­ing the sys­tem’. It was to­tally ou­tra­geous and no­body was ask­ing the ques­tion ‘How much of this money is un­paid main­te­nance?’ so at least I got to put my foot in the door with that. From the mo­ment I did, it be­came ob­vi­ous that the gov­ern­ment was sup­port­ing men not pay­ing main­te­nance as op­posed to sup­port­ing women on the DPB.

“I had a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion – I liked ev­i­dence and I liked data and the so­cial data on women was pretty non-ex­is­tent, so at least one of the other things I could do to un­der­mine the prej­u­di­cial rea­son­ing that went on all the time was ask ques­tions in the house of min­is­ters.”

High­light­ing the gaps, she says, was one of the only tools she had strate­gi­cally avail­able to her. By the end of nine years she had lodged nearly 1000 ques­tions.

Mar­i­lyn says she is proud of both the suf­frage pe­ti­tion and the Treaty of Wai­tangi. “I feel both of those are real trea­sures and, as a per­son from Aotearoa, I carry them re­ally close to my heart – they are a source of great pride and hu­mil­ity. As a school­child I no­ticed the Treaty be­cause ev­ery other treaty we were ever taught about was signed by men and this one, some women signed.”

Asked what her great­est bat­tle has been, Mar­i­lyn says it is on­go­ing. “I am still bat­tling it – the whole is­sue of women’s un­paid work not be­ing recog­nised.” She’s been do­ing this from the late 1970s and it re­ally blew up when she left par­lia­ment in 1984 and wrote Count­ing for Noth­ing, which has be­come a fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics bi­ble.

She now teaches PhD stu­dents at

AUT. “The great joy of what I do now is ev­ery per­son who comes in the door to do a PhD with me wants to change some­thing around so­cial jus­tice, around dig­nity, around the rights of mi­nori­ties. I feel like this job is my nir­vana.”

She is also writ­ing her par­lia­men­tary au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, which she de­scribes as like re­turn­ing to the 19th cen­tury.

“There are some changes now – peo­ple recog­nise that MPs have chil­dren and should be able to spend time with them in the school hol­i­days, which def­i­nitely didn’t hap­pen. I sus­pect there is less ob­vi­ous sex­ism in the de­bates, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause peo­ple don’t think like that, but be­cause they don’t want to be caught think­ing like that.

“But the games are still played. I was truly, truly shocked at some of the de­bate on Louisa Walls’ mar­riage equal­ity bill. It is the only time since I left [par­lia­ment] that I have been back to the house and sat and lis­tened to a de­bate. I was show­ing sup­port to Louisa but also re­mind­ing the House that we had been there.”

When asked about the women’s rights move­ment, she says, “Carry it on. We owe it to them, we have priv­i­leges many of them never had. There are a num­ber of women who signed the suf­frage pe­ti­tion with a thumbprint, a cross. There was a group of women who couldn’t read or write but knew they wanted the vote.”

Women, she says, can com­bat sex­ism one de­ci­sion at a time. “It is ev­ery­thing from ‘don’t leave your dirty dishes in the sink, do them your­self’ right through to ‘I beg your par­don, don’t bully me’. Also, be ac­tive – iwi gov­er­nance needs you, your school board needs you, def­i­nitely the pri­vate sec­tor boards need you, the sin­gle parents who can’t ac­cess Work­ing for Fam­i­lies need you.”>>

We have priv­i­leges many of them never had.

At the age of 11, Hana Olds watched a doc­u­men­tary about a Malaysian doc­tor who re­ceived his ed­u­ca­tion against the odds and wanted to find a cure for cancer. At 12, she pub­lished a book about him that raised thou­sands of dol­lars for his work.

“The doc­u­men­tary was about a pro­fes­sor in Wellington called Dr

Swee Tan, who grew up in a very poor en­vi­ron­ment but de­cided he wanted to be a doc­tor,” Hana ex­plains.

“He went to univer­sity, fac­ing mul­ti­ple chal­lenges along the way. Twenty years later he de­vel­oped a re­ally in­no­va­tive cure for straw­berry birth­marks, which ba­si­cally meant the thing in­side the tu­mour at­tacked it­self.

“He went on to say he be­lieved he could cure cancer, and that he wanted to cre­ate a re­search in­sti­tute.”

Hana, who was in a gifted chil­dren’s pro­gramme, asked her teacher if they could in­vite the doc­tor to talk to the class. Af­ter that, she ap­proached him to ask if she could write his story. He was re­luc­tant, but his wife talked him into it. A year-and-a-half later Hana’s book was pub­lished in schools and raised about $35,000 for his in­sti­tute.

Hana went on to speak at con­fer­ences, was nom­i­nated as a fi­nal­ist for the Women of In­flu­ence in the youth sec­tion and a fi­nal­ist in the youth sec­tion for Welling­to­nian of the Year. “I feel truly priv­i­leged to be able to speak, be­cause for me it is so much more than words – it is a way of looking at life,” she says.

Hana spoke at the open­ing of the He Tohu ex­hi­bi­tion and has vis­ited it four times.

“I went with my mum and my aunty and they have this re­ally cool thing where you can search up names on the suf­frage pe­ti­tion. We searched my great-great-grand­mother and found her name. Mum and I were quite emo­tional – it re­in­forced that we come from a line of strong women. It would have been quite hard to sign the pe­ti­tion in those days. It was an ex­treme pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem and women were op­pressed emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally, so it re­ally hit our hearts.”

Hana has heard much about her great-great-grand­mother, Anna Olds, who wrote a diary about trav­el­ling from Bri­tain to New Zealand. “She was an ex­tremely strong woman who left her fam­ily and friends to bring her fam­ily to a for­eign land.”

Both Hana’s parents have been ac­tivists. “They were at Spring­boks tour protests, they were at Bas­tion Point, they were both raised Chris­tian and, through the Methodist church, joined some rad­i­cal Chris­tian­ity and youth move­ments.”

At high school Hana was part of the fem­i­nist club, the amnesty club and di­rected the Shake­speare So­ci­ety, a stu­dent-led group that has been going for 25 years.

She com­pleted an en­tre­pre­neur pro­gramme at the Auck­land

Univer­sity of Technology (AUT) at the be­gin­ning of this year and will be study­ing po­lit­i­cal stud­ies and Maori stud­ies at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in 2018. She is flu­ent in Te Reo and her main goal is to sup­port a change in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem to em­body the treaty and sup­port New Zealand to adopt bi­cul­tural prac­tice.

She’s set­ting her sights high – her role mod­els are Dame Whina Cooper, He­len Clark and world-renowned Maori ed­u­ca­tion­al­ist Dr Rangi­marie Tu­ruki Rose Pere. And, of course, her great-great-grand­mother.

“I’ve al­ways read and I re­ally en­joy sto­ries set in the past be­cause it forms a lot about the present; it makes you ap­pre­ci­ate where we have come from. I feel a deep sense of grat­i­tude for the priv­i­leges I have, but also a deep sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the amount of change that we still have to make.

“Some­times it feels over­whelm­ing, but know­ing what they were do­ing dur­ing that [more chal­leng­ing] time – that in­spires me to push the bound­aries in my lifetime.”>>

I have a deep sense of grat­i­tude for the priv­i­leges I have, but also a deep sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the amount of change we still have to make.

Mi­hin­garangi Forbes says her role as a jour­nal­ist is to strive for equal­ity and give a voice to those who don’t have one. It’s a con­cept her an­ces­tors Wil­liam Sid­ney and Mary Jane (known as Jen­nie) Lovell-Smith de­voted their lives to, both be­ing key play­ers in New Zealand’s women’s suf­frage move­ment.

The cou­ple had 10 chil­dren, who all went on to be­come in­volved in their parents’ work. One of those chil­dren was Hu­bert Lovell-Smith, Mihi’s great­grand­fa­ther.

When he was in his early teens, Mihi says Hu­bert would “drive his mother around the out­skirts of Christchurch, where she would knock on doors and try and get women to sign the suf­frage pe­ti­tion. There is one story of them going to a house where they didn’t have a pen to sign the pe­ti­tion, be­cause the only pen in the house had gone to school for the day.”

When Wil­liam and Jen­nie met Kate Shep­pard, she be­came a ma­jor player in their fam­ily and ended up liv­ing with them. “They all had this mis­sion to get the vote for women,” says Mihi. “That house would have been all go!”

The Lovell-Smiths’ un­ortho­dox liv­ing ar­range­ment was a long-last­ing one. Kate re­mained with the fam­ily un­til she died in 1934, nursed by Wil­liam and Jen­nie’s daugh­ters Kitty and Lucy, who hadn’t mar­ried and stayed at the fam­ily home un­til their own deaths.

“Part of the house was Aunty Kate’s wing and the other part was Jen­nie, Wil­liam and the chil­dren’s wing. They were pretty out-there peo­ple – they weren’t your av­er­age nu­clear fam­ily – and I am sure there were parts of so­ci­ety that frowned upon them.”

Jen­nie died in 1924, and Kate and Wil­liam mar­ried a year later. “There are lots of sto­ries about what went on, but one of my aunts, who has read lots of [fam­ily] let­ters, says she be­lieves that Wil­liam’s re­la­tion­ship with Kate was the pri­mary re­la­tion­ship of his life,” says Mihi. “They had a con­nec­tion that was so great, they were like best mates. The story goes that it was pla­tonic up un­til the time Jen­nie passed away, but no one will ever know.”

The fight for so­cial jus­tice didn’t stop with Jen­nie and Wil­liam’s chil­dren. “I grew up know­ing we were a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent – all the women in my fam­ily have been very ac­tive,” says Mihi.

Her grand­mother, for example, lived through the war and bucked the so­cial trend of set­tling down and cre­at­ing a nu­clear fam­ily. In­stead she got a PhD in nurs­ing and trav­elled solo through the Pa­cific. She didn’t marry un­til she was 38, which was very late for the time. Her sis­ter, Joan, be­came a pho­tog­ra­pher, an un­com­mon oc­cu­pa­tion then.

“They had roles that were a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent to the norm, but they weren’t as rad­i­cal be­cause the era didn’t al­low them to be.”

Mihi’s mother, Mar­cia Ama­dio, was a dif­fer­ent story. “My mum was to­tally rad­i­cal. I grew up with a garage full of protest ban­ners and spray paints. She fought for gay and les­bian rights, she was in­volved in Women Against Pornog­ra­phy, Halt All Racist Tours. As a kid, I went to a Spring­boks tour with her and I re­mem­ber there be­ing peo­ple in crash hel­mets and po­lice. I was scared but I knew what it was about be­cause we al­ways had these meet­ings in our house.”

That was dur­ing the 1980s in Feild­ing – a con­ser­va­tive farm­ing town where women protest­ing was not a com­mon or wel­come oc­cur­rence.

“My mother would be down the main street with very small groups of pro­test­ers, giv­ing it to farm­ers about the en­vi­ron­ment, and the coun­cil for not hav­ing enough fe­male coun­cil­lors. The farm­ers used to call them id­iots, but Mum didn’t care and she still doesn’t care. She is 67 and still meets that group of women for brunch to tell their war sto­ries.”

Mihi can now see the in­cli­na­tion in her own chil­dren. “They are 16 and 13 and more into the Kar­dashi­ans than the Lovell-Smiths – which kills me on the in­side! – but they have grown up with my mum, who is a so­cial ac­tivist, and my sis­ter, who is an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, so we are a fam­ily who have those dis­cus­sions around the ta­ble.

“My kids have protested against deep-sea oil drilling and my 16-yearold daugh­ter has been ac­tive in push­ing for more Te Reo Maori at her school.”

Asked how she feels about women’s rights to­day, Mihi says dis­crim­i­na­tion against women still ex­ists, but it is bet­ter dis­guised.

“It is not so in-your-face be­cause peo­ple know you can’t dis­crim­i­nate against women; it’s a bit like racism in this coun­try – it is more sub­tle, which ac­tu­ally can be more dan­ger­ous.

“No one would say to me, ‘Mihi, you won’t be con­sid­ered for this po­si­tion be­cause you are a fe­male or you are Maori’ – it is more sub­tle than that.

But in my fam­ily we don’t re­ally suf­fer fools, so noth­ing re­ally stops me and what­ever school or job I am in­volved in, I will al­ways push for so­cial jus­tice, Te Reo Maori and equal­ity.” AWW

They had this mis­sion to get the vote for women.

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