Women’s rights are human rights: Collecting protest objects

Women’s rights are human rights: Collecting protest objects

Women activists have produced a rich trail of protest objects including the ‘monster’ suffrage petition of 1893. History Curator Stephanie Gibson highlights some memorable objects of the Women’s Marches held on 21 January 2017.

A global phenomenon

Placard with the words ‘Women's Rights Are Human Rights’
‘Women’s Rights Are Human Rights’ placard, January 2017. By Adrianne Reid. Gift of Adrianne Reid, 2017. Te Papa (GH025105)

The Women’s March on Washington DC was a global phenomenon.

It took place on the same day throughout the world, with nearly five million participants in over six hundred sister marches in sixty countries on all seven continents.

Marches took place across New Zealand, with the largest gatherings in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin.

They were timed to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump on 20 January 2017, and were intended to send a message to his administration on its first day in office that women’s rights are human rights.

Washington’s walking billboards

The Women’s March on Washington organisers designed a strong graphic identity that could be downloaded and shared anywhere in the world, with each particular location added by local printers.

Branded T-shirts are a useful tool for protest movements, declaring allegiance and identity and acting as walking billboards.

Black tshirt with the words 'Women’s March' and female faces printed
Women’s March T-shirt, January 2017. By Women’s March on Washington ‒ New Zealand. Gift of Kari Highstead, 2017. Te Papa (GH018176)

In Wellington

Placard with the words ‘He waka eke noa - we're all in this together'
‘He waka eke noa’ placard, January 2017. By Women’s March on Washington ‒ New Zealand. Gift of Kim Griggs, 2017. Te Papa (GH025119)

This placard was carried on the Women’s March from Parliament to Civic Square in Wellington. ‘He waka eke noa’ is a Māori whakataukī (proverb) which means ‘we are all in this together’.

Cardboard placard with the words ‘Kate Sheppard Sent Me’ painted in black
‘Kate Sheppard Sent Me’ placard, 20 January 2017. By Leah McFall, New Zealand. Gift of Leah McFall, 2017. Te Papa (GH025260)

This placard was made by journalist Leah McFall for the Women’s March in Wellington.

It invokes and pays homage to one of New Zealand’s most famous woman activists – Kate Sheppard – who led the women’s suffrage campaign.

Creativity and collaboration

Blue flags which say 'We the People’.
‘We the People’ flags, January 2017. By Jess Beauchamp, New Zealand. Gift of Jess Beauchamp, 2017. Te Papa (TMP027004)

These flags were made by Jess Beauchamp for the Women’s March in Wellington, and they reflect the American origins of the protest. Beauchamp chose the dramatic first three words of the preamble to the United States constitution: ‘We the People’.

Flags play a significant role in protests. Their colour, tactility, softness, and constant movement can generate a non-threatening and sometimes beautiful environment, while delivering a serious message.

They can inspire creativity and collaboration in their making, and can be excellent examples of textile craft. But like other protest objects, they can take courage to carry.

Breaking metaphoric glass

Placard with the words ‘I Won't Stop Until It Rains Glass’
‘I Won’t Stop Until It Rains Glass’ placard, January 2017. By Bridget Jackson. Gift of Bridget Jackson, 2017. Te Papa (GH025259)

This placard was created by American-born Bridget Jackson and carried on the Women’s March in Wellington. It refers to women breaking metaphoric glass ceilings believed to be holding women back, and the ambition that many had for Hillary Clinton to break the ultimate glass ceiling – that of the United States Presidency.

Why collect protest objects?

Placards, flags, banners, and T-shirts play a significant role in protest movements, demonstrations, and in the accompanying visual record.

The Women’s March protest objects were largely handmade and many placards were notable for their strong messages and sense of humour.

Humour, satire, and parody were effective ways for protesters to deal with serious subjects, and helped keep protest spaces safe and non-threatening.

By collecting this material we record the zeitgeist of this particular moment, but also ongoing concerns about feminism and human rights.

These objects help us remember what happened and why. They tell important stories about local, national and global events.

They also remind me how lucky we are that we can take to the streets and demonstrate safely – something that is not always possible in some parts of the world.

Suffrage 125

Te Papa is proud to be a part of the Suffrage 125 national event programme.


  1. Excellent Collection. We are a flagmaker in nz and willing to support local communities. we can do free custom flag design and sometimes offer free custom flags or banners to some campaigns.

  2. Neat to see some of the other inspiring protest objects and be reminded of the importance of raising our voices, placards and flags when needed. Thank you Stephanie

  3. Fantastic contemporary collecting. So important for this year as well.

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