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Young women march to Parliament House

Story by Rosemary Cadden

South Australia's future young voters took advantage of the Women's Suffrage Centenary in 1994 to voice their political demands before they became eligible to go the polls. On August 23, hundreds of young women from South Australian schools marched to the steps of Parliament House with a monster petition expressing the issues deeply concerning the youth of 1994.

The petition mirrored the presentation to Parliament House exactly 100 years previously of the historic Great petition that led to South Australian women gaining the right to vote. This time, the Petition, signed by hundreds students from schools throughout South Australia, stated that the petitioners: "are convinced of the absolute justice of equal rights for all people and that there is continuing evidence of inequality, in education, in employment, in access to information, and government assistance; in health, in support for families, in housing and in protection of the environment."

Individual schools also added their own specific demands.

The march from Victoria Square, up King William Street to Parliament House on North Terrace, was the culmination of months of planning and preparation - including creating a representative list of young people's demands, gathering names for the petition from schools throughout the State and organising the official "handing over" to the Minister for the Status of Women, Diana Laidlaw.

A major aim of the original petition was to reject the continuing argument from members opposed to the change claiming that "women have not asked for the suffrage." Ms Laidlaw said that the modern-day petition showed that the young women of today are just as eager to voice their demands and lobby for change. Their statements included calls for attention to:

  • various environmental problems in South Australia;

  • the education system, including the need to avoid increased class sizes and the closure of schools;

  • specific needs in rural communities

The project was the initiative of South Australian writer and educator Elizabeth Mansutti.

"When I searched for an event that would offer young people an informative, simple and historically accurate activity in which they could participate, the Great petition to Parliament seemed to offer an ideal opportunity to explain the history and to raise the political awareness of young people and their future role as voters," she said.

Students from the six girls schools in Adelaide - Port Adelaide, Gepps Cross, Mitcham, Wilderness, St, Mary's and Annesley College - set to work to re-create the original petition, writing to all other schools for support. "It caught the imagination of the students," Elizabeth Mansutti said. "They have been astonished and amazed at the status of women and young girls when I described it as it was 109 years ago when females were the 'property' of their husbands or fathers, the age of consent was 13 in this State and many girls their age would have already been married. "It helped them see that so much of what we take for granted was hard-won."

Signatures collected, banners designed, the edges of the petition decorated or purled, as the term was 100 years ago, and speeches written, hundreds of students from a number of schools, dressed in Suffrage-purple, strode through the city on August 23 and swarmed onto the steps of Parliament House to deliver their manifesto of claims from the youth of South Australia. Students representing the six organising schools addressed the gathering, providing a brief history of the women's suffrage movement and Mary Lee, describing the life of contemporary women and acknowledging the work of current women Members of Parliament.

A group of dancers from Port Adelaide also expressed their feelings in dance. "In the tradition of the strong women who worked tirelessly to gain for us the right to vote, we wish now to present you with our symbolic petitions," Ms Laidlaw was told. "The issues expressed in these petitions are those which deeply concern the youth of 1994.

"As Mary Lee said 'Let us be up and doing' and let us work for a future where as women we will take an active and equal part in the Government of this country."


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This page last updated on Friday 11 April, 2014 15:17



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