Posts Tagged ‘women’s rights’

Jury Service for Women

We were a subversive bunch in the Women’s Dept. of The Press, Christchurch’s morning newspaper, even though the editorial stance of The Press was socially and politically conservative. In the early 1960s a big issue for women was the right to serve on juries on an equal basis with men. Until 1942, New Zealand women were denied the right to sit on juries, and even after that date, they had to apply to have their names put on the rolls. Only the most civic-minded women, referred to in some quarters as battleaxes and stickybeaks, volunteered to do so. The official view was that compulsory jury service might interfere seriously with the home-making responsibilities of women.

I remember the glee with which I returned to the office from a meeting of the Christchurch branch of the New Zealand Federation of University Women and regaled my colleagues with the drubbing the guest speakers, two male politicians, received concerning this attitude.

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I followed up with a survey: Was there a “strong and clearly expressed” desire by Christchurch women for this equality of status? I’m probably guilty of compromising the survey’s objectivity by giving prominent coverage in my report to a woman with strong egalitarian views, but am comfortable my conclusion is valid:

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 A petition to Parliament in 1963 resulted in a compromise: the Juries Amendment Act of 1963 made women liable to be included in the roll in the same way as men, but gave a woman an absolute right to have her name withdrawn on request. This right was cancelled in 1976. Jury service for men and women then became completely equal.

NOTE: The issue of jury service for women in the United States followed a similar trajectory, though complicated by variations among states. In 1979 (three years after New Zealand) the U.S. Supreme Court overturned automatic exemptions for women.

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Maureen is exploring the contents of an old black filing cabinet in her attic, which contains 55 years of her writing notes and memorabilia.

Remembering the Silence

An excellent piece in Mother Jones on the 39th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade brought to mind my own memories of growing up in the silence around even the word “abortion.” This poem was first published in CALYX.


I tell him about

the story in my mother’s letter:

a girl I knew last year in high school

dead, a botched abortion,


the police phoning her parents,

saying Come and get your kid.

First time I’d heard the word


I ask him what it means, hear

the silence around it,

his silence as we walk by the river

late at night

near his dorm room

rank with beer bottles

and dirty socks,

where Eartha Kitt sang for us

Birds do it, bees do it…

A wooden bench,

the slop, slop of the river.

His hand explores my thigh.

My leg closes against him,

saying no,

I don’t want to die,

not yet.