NZ PM Ardern pays tribute to suffragettes

New Zealand's PM has told an audience, ahead of the 125th anniversary of women getting the vote, that progress is still owed.

Clad in bloomers and wearing pearls, a 19-year-old Catherine Wiltshire on a Friday evening in 1876 took on the male-dominated sport of walking.

Despite New Zealand papers saying the 44-kilogram woman's frame "did not give token of much power of performance", she was the next night greeted by deafening applause as she finished a 100-mile (160km) walk and became celebrated as the "greatest pedestrienne in the world".

She would also later become one of the 25,519 women to put their names on the petition that led to women getting the vote in New Zealand in 1893.

This was the story New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told of her great-great-grandmother while speaking to students at a packed-out theatre in Christchurch on Thursday.

"Many families will carry stories, passed down through the generations of great aunts, and grandmothers who signed the petition," she told the crowd.

"They were ordinary women, but each was extraordinary in their own way."

Next week marks the 125th anniversary of New Zealand becoming the first self-governed country to give all women the vote.

At an event marking the start of celebrations, Ardern spoke of the way her ancestor and others like her that followed had "just got on with it" and were now inspirations for women to do the same.

"The issues they fought for - economic independence, freedom from violence, equal pay, are issues we are still grappling with today," she said.

Ardern this year became the first elected world leader to take maternity leave. Her government this year promised to completely close the pay gap in the public sector by 2020.

"We need to prioritise (equal pay) because it's been 125 years," she later said while taking questions from students.

"Like the thousands of other women who signed that 1892 petition, women today are living their own extraordinary stories. It's to them we owe progress."

Australia was quick to follow New Zealand on enfranchisement, with South Australia giving women the vote in 1894, Western Australia in 1899 and the federal government in 1902, but exempting Aboriginal women.

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