Big Girls celebrate Suffrage 125

Waterfront ‘Shine a Light On Your Rights’ parade. Credit: Malcolm Wood

Giant puppets and paper lanterns lit up the Wellington waterfront in August in a special illuminated parade marking 125 years of women’s rights in Aotearoa.

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO supported the Rangiwahia Environmental Arts Centre Trust (REACT) to stage the ‘Big Girls’ parade, as well as an exhibition at Wellington Museum.

Around 300 women from a wide range of cultures took part in the parade, including 160 ESOL learners from Palmerston North and Porirua, who bussed down for the event.

Creative Director and Centre Co-ordinator Bridgette Murphy says tourists from all over the world visited the exhibition. School groups studying migration and ESOL classes with their tutors were also among the visitors. “Many visitors brought back more people to share the experience.”

Bridgette says that the ESOL students loved the chance to think about women’s rights. “We shared Maōri phrases with them also, and for their lanterns they chose either English or Māori for one side, with their mother tongue written on the other side. It was very moving.”

REACT held public lantern-making workshops in Midland Park and on Cuba Street, marking 125 years of suffrage by asking women to write a short statement about their desires in 2018 on their lanterns.

“It’s important to celebrate this 125 year milestone to reflect upon where we’ve come from, and to acknowledge where we’re at now,” says Bridgette.

“While we can feel a little smug about being the first in the world for universal suffrage, we must not forget that full equality has still not been achieved.”