’Women Can Do Anything’ proclaims a greatly enlarged 1970’s badge in Te Papa’s “modest but powerful exhibition commemorating 125 years since New Zealand women secured the right to vote.  Curator Katie Cooper guided a large group of Friends through the exhibition and explained how the objects symbolised women’s ongoing quest for equality.

Some of the artifacts are feature in Women Now, The Legacy of Female Suffrage launched earlier in the day.  Editor Dr Bronwyn Labrum told how the 12 contributors to the book, published by Te Papa Press, represented different voices, including men. Each was given an object in Te Papa’s collection and asked to discuss what it meant to them personally and what it represented in the fight for equality.

The oldest exhibit, a medal for ’Gallantry and Endurance as a Suffragette’ was awarded to Frances Parker, a New Zealander who took part in the militant campaign in Britain.. Frances was imprisoned three times and force fed.  Katie compared this with the tradition of peaceful resistance in New Zealand.  Kuia from Parihaka were the inspiration for the protest pois on show, used during the movement ’Women Walk and Work for Peace’.

Other objects represented are tools that have helped advance women’s equality, including the 1965 contraceptive pill, breast pumps for working mothers and menstrual cup packs.  A question uppermost in the minds of Katie and Bronwyn was, how would Kate Sheppard view women’s equality in modern-day New Zealand?  Katie believes she would be horrified by the domestic violence. Women’s Refuge provided some of the basic items given to women seeking shelter.

Items of clothing include the controversial pink Pussyhat worn by marchers, a Nood T-shirt addressing sexual consent, and baby Neve’s wee woolen cap, donated to Te Papa by Prime Minister, Jacinta Ardern.  Mannequins display outfits from two women who broke the glass ceiling: the blue suit Jenny Shipley wore when she was sworn in as New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister in 1997 and Winnie Laban’s puletasi (a formal Samoan garment) that she wore to make her maiden speech as our first female Pacific Islander Member of Parliament.  Katie pointed out that it was not until 1933 that a woman was actually elected to Parliament.  Currently females make up 38% of Members, the highest proportion ever.   Surely something Kate Sheppard would applaud!

Elizabeth Ellis, Friends Committee Member