Big Girls shine a light on women’s rights


Giant puppets and paper lanterns lit up Wellington in a special illuminated parade marking 125 years of women’s rights to vote in Aotearoa.

The lively celebration along Wellington’s waterfront on 11 August was led by Kiwis from all over the world who’ve made New Zealand their home.

‘Big Girls’ are large-scale puppets made from willow, tissue, bamboo and other renewable reused material.

Migrant and refugee-background learners from English Language Partners in Palmerston North and Porirua have increased the diversity of the collection by adding their own vibrant creations.

The international family of Big Girls now boasts puppets made by New Zealanders from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Colombia, Japan, Burma and other countries.

English Language Partners’ centres help Aotearoa’s newer Kiwis learn English so they can participate in their everyday lives. Porirua manager Jacqueline Wilton said that working on the puppets had been a valuable language experience for learners, as well as learning about the significance of women’s rights in New Zealand.

The Porirua and Palmerston North centres worked with the Rangiwahia Environmental Arts Centre Trust (REACT), who are behind the Big Girls initiative. Bridget Murphy from REACT says their goal is to work with more migrant- and refugee-background communities to increase their representation and visibility in Aotearoa.

“We have a whole family of Big Girls now that we have developed with all these amazing women over the years.”

English Language Partners’ learners and their families enjoyed a day out in Wellington before they joined the evening festivities. Their newer puppets danced alongside others from Aotearoa, Pasifika and Latin America, as well as the radiant ‘Illuminated Sister’ – representing women who signed the 1893 petition to parliament.

“One of the best things about the parade is that it raises awareness about the diversity of cultures in Aotearoa,” Jacqueline said. She wore one of the Big Girls and was excited to see the puppet project ‘come to life’ at the parade.

“Creating art that represents Aotearoa’s more recently-arrived communities is just fantastic,” she said. “It’s important that we see ourselves reflected as ‘faces of New Zealand,’ as we’re all part of Aotearoa – whether it’s our past, present or future.”



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