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Bring Back Kate! What does suffrage in 2018 mean to you?

This year sees the 125th anniversary of the granting of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. Te Papa is proud to be commemorating this event, and one of the ways we will be marking it is by collecting ten objects that explore the diversity of women’s experiences as they have worked to achieve positive social change.

History curator Katie Cooper discusses some of the objects in our collection that highlight challenges or milestones in the fight for women’s rights. She asks, what do you think we should collect to mark the anniversary of the suffrage movement? What object would you pick to represent the ongoing fight for women’s rights? We want to know.

Bring Back Kate

As I was sitting on the bus recently, a sticker on the drivers’ cash box caught my eye. It was a ‘Bring Back Kate’ sticker, produced by Women’s Refuge in 2014 as part of a national domestic violence awareness campaign.

Photograph showing a white sticker on a black cash box. The sticker reads 'Join Women's Refuge in making a stand against domestic violence. Bring Back' It also features a picture of Kate Sheppard.
‘Bring Back Kate’ sticker, displayed on a cash box on a Wellington bus. Photograph by Katie Cooper.

The campaign was a call to the people of New Zealand, urging them to pledge their commitment to Women’s Refuge and to fight for women’s rights, just as suffragist Kate Sheppard had done more than 120 years earlier. The granting of women’s suffrage had been an important step towards gender equality, but, as the organizers of the Bring Back Kate campaign pointed out, there were many steps still to take.

The sticker caught my eye because, just the day before, I had been having a conversation with my colleagues about whether or not the suffrage campaign still resonated with New Zealanders in the twenty-first century. Here was proof that it did.

Representing suffrage at Te Papa

At Te Papa we are always looking for ways to represent the fight for women’s rights. We recognize that the quest for gender equality is ongoing, and that it encompasses a wide range of cultural, social, economic, and political issues. However, we also acknowledge that some of these issues are contentious, and that a wide range of viewpoints exist among New Zealand women.

What does suffrage mean to you?

As we mark the 125th anniversary of the granting of women’s suffrage this year, we want to know what it means to you.

If you were to pick an object that reveals your experience of the fight for gender equality, what would it be? If you could #bringbackkate and show her one thing that, to you, demonstrates the legacy of the suffrage campaign or the ongoing fight for women’s rights, what would you choose?

We would love to hear your ideas, which will inform how and what we collect to commemorate Suffrage 125. You can share comments below, or if you would like to contact us directly please email

Some examples

Below are some examples of amazing objects in our collection which we hope will inspire you to share your own stories and suggestions.

Women’s Hockey Sticks, c1900

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Prior to the 1870s New Zealand women did not participate in sport. Their clothing was too restrictive, the ideal body was soft and delicate, and physical activity, particularly in public, was considered improper.

By the early twentieth century participation in sport was encouraged as a means to ensuring that women were healthy mothers. Despite this conservative justification sport did contribute to ‘immense changes in women’s lives,’ loosening clothing and making public activity more acceptable (Else, ‘Gender inequalities – Sport’).

The hockey stocks in our collection were used by sisters Mary and Winfred Gallagher when they were living in the small Southland settlement of Wairio at the start of the twentieth century.

Anovlar 21 Contraceptive Pill, c1965

Anovlar 21 contraceptive pill, circa 1965, Germany, by Schering AG. Gift of Dame Margaret Sparrow, 2011. Te Papa (GH022147)
Anovlar 21 contraceptive pill, circa 1965, Germany, by Schering AG. Gift of Dame Margaret Sparrow, 2011. Te Papa (GH022147)

Anovlar, introduced in 1961, was the first contraceptive pill to be used in New Zealand. Initially it was only available to married women through doctors’ prescriptions, but by the early 1970s Family Planning was prescribing the pill to unmarried women. It quickly became a very popular method of contraception, and today more than 200,000 New Zealand women use some form of contraceptive pill.

The pill allowed women to control their fertility, and plan for their futures. They could delay marriage and childbirth while they worked or studied, and could plan their careers without fear of unplanned pregnancy. The pill also enabled women to enjoy sexual activity that was purely for love and pleasure, not necessarily for reproduction.

Women Want Equal Pay Tea Towel, 1985

Women Want Equal Pay teatowel, 1985, New Zealand, by New Zealand Clerical Workers' Union. Gift of Jan Noonan, 2010. Te Papa (GH016924)
Women Want Equal Pay teatowel, 1985, New Zealand, by New Zealand Clerical Workers’ Union. Gift of Jan Noonan, 2010. Te Papa (GH016924)

This tea towel, produced by the New Zealand Clerical Workers’ Union in 1985, borrows a famous cartoon from the United States to make the point that a person’s genitalia should not dictate their pay.

Equal pay for women was legislated for the public sector in 1961 and the private sector in 1972. However, pay equity has still not been realised and in January 2018 a joint working group of Government representatives, unions, and employers was convened to provide recommendations for pay equity legislation.

P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. Badges and T-shirts

The Pacific Allied (Women’s) Council Inspires Faith Ideals Concerning All Incorporation (P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A) was established in New Zealand in 1977. Its purpose was to create opportunities for Pacific women to support and encourage one another to participate in the wider community, especially in issues that affected them and their families.

We have a number of items in the collection related to P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A., including T-shirts and badges. These were gifted to Te Papa by Mere Tepaeru Tereora, who was National President of the Society in the 1990s.

Kiwibank ‘Independent Women Invest Here’ Poster, 2015

Independent women invest here poster, 2015, New Zealand, by Kiwi Wealth Limited. Gift of Kiwi Wealth Limited, 2017. Te Papa (GH025081)
Independent women invest here poster, 2015, New Zealand, by Kiwi Wealth Limited. Gift of Kiwi Wealth Limited, 2017. Te Papa (GH025081)

This Kiwi Wealth poster, which mimics the iconic ‘Rosie the Riveter’ poster produced during World War Two, acknowledges that in the twenty-first century many women are financially independent. This independence has been hard-won.

Until the mid-twentieth century most women left paid employment when they got married and were thereafter largely dependent on their husbands for their personal income. Married women who did work outside the home were taxed at a higher secondary rate until 1972.

Women’s March Wellington Placard, 2017

Women’s March Wellington Placard, 2017, New Zealand, by Ruby Pleasants. Gift of Kim Griggs, 2017. Te Papa (GH025118)
Women’s March Wellington Placard, 2017, New Zealand, by Ruby Pleasants. Gift of Kim Griggs, 2017. Te Papa (GH025118)

This placard was painted by Ruby Pleasants for the Wellington Women’s March, held on the 21st of January 2017. More than 1000 people participated in the march, many carrying placards, banners and flags.

The Women’s March was a global phenomenon which took place on the same day throughout the world. It featured a broad coalition of nearly five million participants in over 600 Sister Marches. It was timed to protest the inauguration of the new United States president Donald Trump, and intended to send a message to his administration on its first day in office that women’s rights are human rights.

Share your thoughts

These are some of the objects we’ve collected that reveal aspects of the fight for women’s rights. But if you could choose an item to add to the collection, what would it be? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below, or email us at

Further Reading




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    Two examples that there is still a long way tpo go:

    The bizarre ways that big brands try to market to women but get it totally wrong, e.g. female doritoes, lady Bic pens, female yorkie bar.

    Also not sure if it is the case in NZ, but in the UK you have to pay tax for tampons and towels.

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