Kōrero: Women’s movement

Whārangi 9. Arts and spirituality

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Theatre and film

Feminist theatre groups and playwrights challenged hierarchy, rediscovered women of renown, and pulled marginalised or disreputable women into the spotlight. Ranging from street theatre performed at political events in the early 1970s to the 1993 WOPPA festival (held to celebrate the centenary of women gaining the vote), theatre was a vital aspect of the women’s movement.

Preserving women’s art

Encouraged by feminism and the flood of new work from women artists, the National Art Gallery set up a Women's Art Archive in 1979 to record existing, neglected work by women and keep track of new work. The archive expanded to include work produced by Australian and Pacific women artists. In the 1990s it was taken over by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Feminist television directors and documentary-makers produced their first work in the mid-1970s, and the first feature films came out in the mid-1980s, including Gaylene Preston’s Mr Wrong (1985) and Melanie Read’s Trial run (1984). Like theatre, film and television celebrated women of the past, and portrayed active and resourceful women of the present.

Equity Women’s Caucus

The Equity Women’s Caucus, with branches in Wellington and Auckland, was set up in 1984 by female members of Equity, the actors’ union. At the time, male actors were more than twice as likely to be employed, with most television dramas centred on male characters. The caucus sought equal opportunity with male actors, non-stereotypical roles for women, and the exchange and development of skills among women in the industry.


Writers, researchers, technicians, producers and directors in film, television and the print media formed Mediawomen in 1977. Like the Equity caucus, Mediawomen sought equal opportunity. It also tried to improve reporting on women, and offered women’s groups media-skills training.

Women’s art movement

In 1974 and 1975 women artists’ groups were formed and exhibitions were held in Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton. The first issue of Spiral, a women’s art journal, appeared in 1976 and a women’s photography exhibition toured the country the same year. A women’s gallery opened in Wellington in 1979 and women’s art festivals were held in 1979 and 1980. Over time the focus of the women's art movement shifted from Christchurch to Wellington to Auckland.


The women’s spirituality movement was strong within New Zealand, and included a variety of Christian and pagan groups.

Influenced by feminism, Christian women examined their faith and the way in which their churches worked. Many worked towards the ordination of women as ministers. They were also concerned with the male-centred nature of scripture and theology, and of church life generally.

Some Christian women created groups within their home churches, or separately from them. From the late 1970s some of these informal groups began developing their own non-patriarchal theology and structure. Sometimes called the ‘woman-church’ movement, its members were predominantly Pākehā, middle-class and well-educated.

Small groups of feminist pagans and goddess worshippers, some identifying as witches, were active in the women’s spirituality movement. They took part in national conferences, held their own meetings and convened their own groups or covens.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Megan Cook, 'Women’s movement - Arts and spirituality', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/womens-movement/page-9 (accessed 18 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Megan Cook, i tāngia i te 5 May 2011