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Author: Barbara Brookes
Publisher: Bridget Williams Books
What better time to take a look at this groundbreaking book than during Women’s History Month. Barbara Brookes’s much anticipated volume charts the lives of New Zealand women in all stages from Polynesian settlement, through colonisation and the World Wars, to modernity. Through all the significant developments and events of our nation women have not just stood on the sidelines, but have acted and influenced, although though they have not necessarily been recognised. For the first time our history is told through the lens of women, and there is much to be discovered and inspired by.
The years of research that Brookes has poured into her work is immediately evident. At nearly 500 pages, peppered throughout with photographs, illustrations, and artwork, the production of such a volume is no small feat. While analysing the social and economic progress of women through New Zealand’s history, individual stories have been brought to the fore. Some of these stories, such as Kate Sheppard’s and Jean Batten’s, we know well; others, such as Lady Mildred Amelia Tapapa Woodbine Pomare, who established a Māori soldiers fund in 1915, and Arapera Kaa, one of New Zealand’s first bilingual poets, will be new discoveries for many readers. One of the most apparent features of this book is the equal attention paid to women of both European and Māori heritage—despite enormous differences in culture and tradition, the desire for equality for women is a unifying cause.
What also stands out, after looking at how far we have come since first gaining the vote in 1893, is what is still left to be achieved. Issues such as equal pay, female representation in Parliament, the treatment of rape victims, and changes to abortion laws, all feature in later parts of the book and ask the question of how we can alter the course of history. It’s up to both men and women to look at these issues and to enact change. Encouragingly, there is already traction. All in all, A History of New Zealand Women is an important book that we can all take something from, it deserves a prominent place on our bookshelves.