National Council of Women of New Zealand

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National Council of Women at the inaugural meeting in Christchurch in 1896

The National Council of Women of New Zealand (Māori: Māori) is an organisation that works to achieve gender equality in New Zealand. The Council was established in 1896.

In September 2017 the National Council of Women of New Zealand launched Gender Equal NZ. Gender Equal NZ is fighting for gender equality so that all New Zealanders have the freedom and opportunity to determine their own future.

Establishment of the Council[edit]

Women in New Zealand won the right to the vote in 1893. Three years later on 13 April 1896, the National Council of Women of New Zealand was established at a women's convention in Christchurch.[1] Kate Sheppard, who had led the campaign for women's suffrage, was elected as the first President. Its aim was to "unite organised societies of women for mutual counsel and co-operation, and all that makes for the good of humanity".[2]

Other founding members included: Anna Stout, the founder of the Women's Franchise League; Margaret Sievwright, founder of the Gisborne branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union; Annie Schnackenberg, president of Woman's Christian Temperance Union during the suffrage campaign; Wilhelmina Sherriff Bain, president of Canterbury Women's Institute and Ada Wells, founder of the Canterbury Women's Institute.[1] On Kate Sheppard's recommendation, Emily Hill became treasurer of the organisation in 1903.[3] Sarah Page was the organisation's secretary in 1905–06.[4] The Council went into recess in 1906.[1]

Rise again[edit]

The Council was revived when Kate Sheppard, Jessie Mackay and Christina Henderson set up a preliminary committee and contacted prominent women around the country. A preliminary meeting of regional representatives was held in April 1918[5] and a full conference was held after the end of the war in September 1919.[1] The new Council had a change in structure and saw the development of branches.

The war contributed to the revival of the Council, women grew concerned about perceived moral decline of New Zealand's youth and the rise of venereal disease.[6] New Zealand was a very different place by the time the Council reconvened than it had been in 1906. The war and urbanisation had changed society and the position of women. More females were receiving higher education and there was more women in the workforce (almost a quarter of all women) but few of these were married. Women were still very firmly placed in the family context with much of their secondary schooling and in some cases even university education focusing on home sciences. There was also a significant pay differentiation for female oriented employment.[5]

Although the new Council was conservative when compared with the pre-1906 Council, it was still more radical than the Government of the day was willing to accept and any advances towards equality were made slowly and with difficulty.[7] A woman's right to sit in Parliament and to sit on a jury were two hard fought issues in which New Zealand was alarmingly behind the times if compared with Great Britain.[8] Issues which were more controversial within the Council itself included things such as the compulsory notification of venereal disease and issues arising from the Depression.

"An article in NCWNZ Bulletin in 1928 listed "What New Zealand Women Want": women on juries and the Prisons Board, women police, a woman co-censor of films, a woman member of New Zealand's delegation to the League of Nations. Concerns included the high death rate of women in childbirth and by septic abortion, equal salaries and status for male and female teachers, improved conditions in schools, and equal pay and promotion in the Civil Service."[9]

During World War II (1939–1945)[edit]

During the World War II period the Council collected nearly 70 ton of food for Britain. It was during this period, also, that representatives of nationally organised societies became involved with the Council.[9]

Post War Period (1945–today)[edit]

The post war period was a relatively quiet time for the Council but a period of rapid growth. It was marked by one very important issue – equal pay for equal work.[10] In 1957 The Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity was formed, which NCWNZ became a part of. Equal pay became a reality in the public sector in 1960 but the private sector was not forced to follow suit until 1972 with the passing of the Equal Pay Act, NCWNZ was pivotal in both campaigns.[11] Another major issue of the post war era was jury service on the same terms for men as for women, this was achieved in 1962 but until 1976 women could still opt out on the grounds of gender.[12]

Over the years the Council has circulated many different publications. Between 1952 and 1958 the Christchurch based "New Zealand Women in Council" was published. "Women's Viewpoint" magazine was published by the Auckland branch in 1960 and 1961. This became the national magazine "Woman's Viewpoint" and was published 10 times a year through the early 1960s. It was replaced by "NCW Quarterly" in 1967.[13]

Discussion at the 1968 conference and the disposal of the 1966 resolution that the Council only make submissions in exceptional circumstances allowed for the growth in importance and extended terms of reference for the Parliamentary Watch Committee. The Committee has played an important role in the NCWNZ ever since.[14]

In 1974 NCWNZ purchased its first permanent headquarters in Wellington.[15]

NCWNZ has always taken a firm stand on moral issues, debating issues such as the treatment of 'degenerates' and the 'feeble-minded', the opposition of pornography and the abuse of alcohol. Since WWII the NCWNZ has opposed nuclear weapons and more recently environmental concerns and issues of violence in society have been important to the Council.[11]

The Council tends to be "disparaged by both the very conservative and the very radical" but remains the voice of thousands of New Zealand women[11] including groups who would not normally agree. Both major (and some minor) political parties are represented in the NCWNZ as are both pro and anti abortion lobby groups.[16] Where there is not consensus on an issue within the NCWNZ this is represented in any submissions made.[17]

Recent work of the Council[edit]

In April 2015, the Council published an open letter to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key against John Key's pulling of a waitress's ponytail.[18]

In September 2017 the National Council of Women of New Zealand launched Gender Equal NZ. Gender Equal NZ is fighting for gender equality so that all New Zealanders have the freedom and opportunity to determine their own future.

Notable members[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "The National Council of Women - women and the vote". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 19 April 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  2. ^ "Appendix 13" (PDF). NCWNZ. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  3. ^ Upton, Victoria. "Emily Hill". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  4. ^ Bohan, Edmund. "Sarah Page". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  5. ^ a b Page 1996, p. 54.
  6. ^ [1] New Zealand History Online
  7. ^ Page 1996, p. 61.
  8. ^ Page 1996, p. 65.
  9. ^ a b [2]
  10. ^ Page 1996, p. 101.
  11. ^ a b c Else 1993, p. 84.
  12. ^ [3] ncwnz/1896–1965
  13. ^ Page 1996, p. 111.
  14. ^ Page 1996, p. 100.
  15. ^ [4]
  16. ^ [5]
  17. ^ [6]
  18. ^ [7], Open Letter to John Key (22 April 2015)


  • Else, Anne (1993). Women Together, A History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand. Wellington: Daphne Brasell Associates Press.
  • Page, Dorothy (1996). The National Council of Women, A Centennial History. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

External links[edit]