Right now, we are facing the biggest environmental challenge of our time — climate change. Our world is warming, seas are rising, and weather patterns are changing. The actions we take right now will have a direct impact on our planet and people, both now and in the future.

It might sound challenging, but it is not the first time that New Zealanders have taken actions that have seen us come out on the right side of history.

Women's rights is an issue that New Zealand has taken a lead on historically. We were the first country in the world to give the vote to women back in 1893 when the Electoral Act was signed into law. In most other countries, including Britain and the United States, women didn't win the vote until after the First World War.

The vote for women was a momentous moment in our history – and in global history – but it didn't happen easily, or overnight. Many politicians in parliament opposed the vote for women, and many outside parliament lobbied the government, claiming allowing women to vote would disrupt the natural order of things. Cartoons appeared in newspapers and on postcards mocking the suffragettes. Despite all this, they kept going.

Image: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 7-A12353, photographers Beattie & Sanderson

The leader of the suffrage movement, Kate Sheppard, whose image is on the New Zealand $10 note, worked tirelessly for years to promote the cause, distributing pamphlets, organising meetings, penning letters to newspapers, and speaking publicly about the movement.

Wahine Māori organised across the country to advocate for suffrage: Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Teinga, Ngāti Manawa, Te Kaitutae) was the first woman to address the Kotahitanga Māori parliament in 1893 to call for women's suffrage.

In 1893, women across Aotearoa New Zealand joined together and submitted a petition to the House of Representatives that contained the signatures of 31,872 women – a quarter of the country's women. It was the largest petition gathered in Australasia, and their voices were heard.

The Act was signed on 19 September 1893 and just over a month later, women across Aotearoa, both Maori and Pakeha, went to the polls for the first time. It was a monumental moment in the history of our small and very young nation, and a call for the rest of the world to follow.

New Zealand stood on the right side of history then and continues to do so on women's rights. We now have provisions like the Equal Pay Act, the Human Rights Commission Act that bans sex-based discrimination, and paid parental leave. We're ranked fifth in the world for representation of women in parliament.

Today, we find ourselves facing the greatest challenge of our time, climate change. The world is changing before our eyes, and the burden will be on future generations unless we act now.

Like we did with women's rights over a hundred years ago, we can lead the world in our climate response and emissions reductions. Our actions now matter more than ever – they will be our legacy.

Will we be on the right side of history?

Cover image: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images