At the Commonwealth leaders meeting in London recently, “there were 53 world leaders and we were all standing around getting ready to go out and line up and they put us in a particular order and I said to the person that came to position me, ‘Oh, so it will be boy-girl-boy-girl?’ And they looked at me blankly, not realising I was just making a sarcastic joke with them. Looking around a room like that you do stand out.”
— prime minister jacinda ardern

Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia is one of the stories you need to know.

Meri and her fellow Maori Suffragists had different dreams and aspirations from Kate Sheppard and her Pākehā supporters. Many Māori women were accustomed to having decision-making power over men, whereas Pākehā women had long endured patriarchal domination. Read the summary of the points she was trying to make about women and ownership of land here . So while Kate Sheppard was very keen on New Zealand women gaining the vote, Meri and her colleagues (people like the awesome Niniwa i te Rangi) were raising bigger concerns. They already owned land and made decisions about their assets - what Maori Suffragists wanted to address was the pakeha laws that didn't see a future for women where that was possible. 

But often the rebels, the innovators, the champions are right in front of us.

In your own family and your own community you have women who have changed your life for the better. Who have stood up, worked hard, changed the world and made important decisions that made your life what it is today.  Yes it is important to know the iconic stories of New Zealand women but it is also important to celebrate the female icons in your own life. 

So we have two groups of icons to think about...the big heroes who changed the whole world with their thoughts and actions as well as the heroines of your own family's life and that of your own community. These icons are the women who changed your world.

Vote sash.jpg


This research task is about building up a list of the greats, the top 100, the best of the best, the ultimate playlist, the game changers, the heroes, the rebels and perhaps even the villains.  Take a look around, make sure you've got a a fair representation of who's who. Stretch your knowledge - if Sheppard, Mangakahia, Frame and Pore are already stories you know, then challenge yourself to make a sub-set of great writers, inspiring politicians or icons of the protest movement.


Build up a list of your Greatest Hits

Our Wāhine is an illustrated history of New Zealand’s extraordinary women created by New Zealand artist Kate Hursthouse. Her mum, Karen Brook, is doing the research.  It's a great place to start your research journey and get a good idea of the types of awesome stories that are out there.  Try for a Top 10 or even a Top 20 depending on how much time you have.


Think - Under/Over?

Take a look at the list you have made.  Remember that we want the stories that we tell to be diverse.  Conduct Alice Canton's Under/Over Suffrage Test on your own Greatest Hits list?  How could you make your list more diverse?  The Dictionary of New zealand Biography is a great place to find iconic women that you have not heard of before.  If you want to review your list this could be a great place to start. 

Now include your own community and whanau icons

Your heart will instantly whisper a name of a woman who has made a huge difference in your life. It might be a blood relation - your mum, aunty or grandmother. It could be someone who has cared for you - a step-mum, your mum's best friend.  Create that list of women who are iconic in your life so far.  This list doesn't have to be just about family - it can be people in your school and wider community as well. 

a starter list of nz women who changed the world

iriaka matiu ratana

Kate Sheppard

learmonth dalrymple

whina cooper

mary anne Müller

te puea herangi

Heni te kiri karamu

emmeline freda

du faur

Data Sentence Card 3.jpg

the data

Data is power. The power to tell stories. The power to understand the world. Access to data can tell you about your place in the world, how you measure up, what's available to you and what's happening to you. Take a look at how things stack up


tell the story

Create your own gallery of icons. They can be the greatest hits - the game changers, the did something firsts, the heroes, the rebels, the did something incredible in the face of adversity.  They can also be the little stories - the awesome mum, the do anything for you grandma, the juggle everything and still smiling teacher.


Investigate an icon.

Extend your research more fully. Search for multiple stories, collect a range of pieces of evidence. Check Timeframes, Papers Past, Nga Taonga Sound and Vision, Digital NZ, the Auckland Museum Collection, Auckland Libraries and NZ on Screen for evidence of their story. Gather together a range of primary and secondary sources.

Understand that even though these icons of New Zealand did remarkable things their stories are not very well known.  Publish and share your story online so that others can find and discover it.


Find a female icon from your own family or community.

Talk with them. Find out about their lives. Most importantly, save what you find out somewhere safe so that you and your family have these answers forever.  Ask them:

  1. How is you life different from your grandmother's?
  2. What rules did your mother have for you?
  3. How would you describe yourself?
  4. What advice would you give your 16 year old self?
  5. What has been your greatest achievement?
  6. Finally...ask her - Are We There Yet?

Create a portrait - 'Our Wahine' Styles - of your iconic woman.

Everywhere we look it seems that to be one of the cool kids you need to be creating caricatures of iconic women who changes the world.  While we're not suggesting even for one second that the very talented Kate Hursthouse used an app to create her beautiful portraits we are suggesting you join the caricature trend via app based means  unless of course you are an awesome artist in which case 100% be our guest. 

For the rest of us mere mortals we suggest immortalising your iconic women via a free app that transforms photos into caricatures.