Justice celebrates 125 Years of women’s suffrage

Today we celebrate the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage and the extraordinary contribution women have made to justice in New Zealand.

On 19 September 1893, the Electoral Act was passed into law. This landmark legislation made New Zealand the first self-governing country in the world to give all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

That achievement was the result of years of advocacy by the Women's Suffrage movement, led by Kate Sheppard. Her contribution, with the help of many others, was instrumental to the rights women have today.

Women in justice

Currently at the Ministry of Justice, women make up 68 percent of our people and 51 percent of our senior managers.

They follow in the footsteps of the justice sector’s many female leaders and pioneers since the late 1800s, such as:

  • Ethel Benjamin, the first woman in Australasia admitted to law school in 1893, who became New Zealand's first female lawyer in 1897. 
  • Dame Augusta Wallace, who in 1976 was the first woman appointed a District Court judge, a position she held for 18 years.
  • Annis Somerville, who set up her own all-women barristers and solicitors practice and when on to become the first Māori Family Court judge in 2001.
  • Dame Silvia Cartwright, who became the first female Chief District Court Judge in 1989; was the first woman appointed to the High Court in 1993; and became New Zealand’s second female Governor-General in 2001.
  • Judith Potter, the first woman elected President of the NZ Law society in 1991.
  • Dame Lowell Goddard, who in 1988 was one of the first two women appointed Queen's Counsel, and who is thought to be the first person of Māori ancestry appointed to the High Court, where she served as a judge from 1995 to 2015.
  • Dame Sian Elias, the first female Chief Justice of New Zealand (the most senior member of the country's judiciary), a role she’s held since 1999.

Learn more about Women’s Suffrage and the 125th year events and celebrations around the country(external link)

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