On 19th September 1893, 125 years ago, New Zealand women became the first in the world to get the right to vote. It is a sentence that seems unremarkable at first glance. But imagine for a moment 50% of the adult population being denied the right to vote in the next election, for no other reason than their sex. It is – thankfully – unimaginable today.
I am enormously grateful for the progress women before me have made in such a relatively short space of time. Yet I am deeply saddened that when I choose to bring a child into this world, it will still be in a shameful state. For all that the Fawcetts did, for all of Kate Sheppard’s work, for all of my ancestors’ struggles, for all of my own campaigning and marching and writing and mobilising. My child will not be born into a gender equal world.
As I write, the USA is one Supreme Court nomination away from putting a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body in jeopardy. In the confirmation hearings this week, Senator Kamala Harris asked the nominee a simple question:
“Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?”
It is a question that neatly gift wraps just one of the innumerable ways that women in 2018, in economically developed nations, are viewed and treated as inferior to men. (The judge could not, in case you were wondering.)
What, then, do I hope for my descendants in another 125 years’ time?
I hope that leaders truly reflect the people they represent. That headlines and reports about our political leaders, male and female, cover their policies and actions rather than their choice in shoes. I hope that our female MPs can go about their work without receiving daily threats of rape and death.
I hope that the newspapers (or whatever we have in 125 years) focus on women’s actions and achievements to the same extent they feature men’s. That the very idea of featuring pornography on the front page is ludicrous, as is displaying those same pages underneath the infants’ magazines in the shop. (Here’s looking at you, Great Britain). I hope that a woman walking to the shop (or whatever we have in 125 years) doesn’t walk in fear of street harassment, abuse or rape.
I hope that same woman has the right to decide what happens to her own body. That no man can make a decision about what happens to her body without her consent. That abortion is not listed as a crime (over to you, New Zealand).
I hope that when two adults of any sex decide to get married that the marriage certificate shows the name and occupation of their mums as well as their dads. (Ahem, another one for you GB). I hope that if they decide to have baby together that either parent can access the changing table when out and about. That men aren’t portrayed as entirely incompetent as parents and at household chores in adverts. I hope that in the private space of their own home, women are safe, without the fear of domestic violence.
I hope that as that couple raises their child, he or she can choose from a variety of magazines, toys, films and books that empower girls and boys to dream big, to learn, to develop cognitively, to build emotional skills like empathy and resilience, and so much more. I hope that the kid’s clothes don’t limit their aspirations, but instead encourage girls and boys alike to reach for the stars.
My hope for 125 years’ time is that women don’t feel utterly ground down by the experience of dealing with sexism everyday, at work, on the street, and in their own homes. And that, if by some awful misfortune they still do, they no longer still get asked the question ‘do we still need feminism?’