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Aren't Can't Don't

The Spinoff

Stories of women in Aotearoa who can't and don't vote

125 years after women’s suffrage in New Zealand, this two-part documentary explores why some women are still unable to vote and why it is so difficult for many others to feel like their voices matter. The series looks at voter engagement through the eyes of women from diverse backgrounds with supporting information from experts on voting rights and political participation. CAN’T focuses on the perspectives of women prisoners who still can’t legally vote, while DON’T examines some of the many and complex reasons women don’t vote.

Aren’t Can’t Don’t is a partnership with The Spinoff and is made with the support of NZ on Air.

Episode One – CAN’T

There are still women in Aotearoa who CAN’T vote. This episode focuses on why, looking particularly at the prison voting ban which has been in effect since 2010.

Maraametua is a community leader who provides services to former addicts and is a mum of four. She was formerly incarcerated at Arohata Women’s Prison and says that not being able to vote was disheartening.

Maraametua/Photo by Ness Patea

Awatea is currently studying towards a double degree in Sociology and Criminology and works in the restorative justice area. She was unable to vote while incarcerated and experienced first hand the dehumanising effect of incarceration. While Awatea understands that the prison system is in part intended to keep the public safe, she questions what the voting ban has to do with public safety.

Awatea/Photo by Ness Patea

Like Maraametua, Awatea believes that the simple act of voting is an important act of participation in society. It can affirm women’s dignity and help divert them out of the prison system by giving them a say in their own futures.

CAN’T also looks at the legal challenge to the 2010 legislation. The case argued that the legislation is at odds with the Bill of Rights act which states voting is a human right. In November 2018 the Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling in 2015, made by the High Court, that the ban on prisoner voting is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.

Episode Two – DON’T

DON’T examines some of the many and complex reasons why, after 125 years of women’s suffrage, so many women don’t vote.

Savanna was a young solo mum of two. She had to fight hard to get out of a dangerous relationship and rebuild her life. She experienced a system ill-designed to support her in meaningful ways. She feels unsupported and thinks politicians neither listen to people like her nor care about them.

Savana/Photo by Ness Patea

Similarly, Temperance, lived for many years on the street. She hears much talk about homeless people from politicians but sees very little actual support and change. She thinks there’s no point in voting.

Temperance/Photo by Ness Patea

Windy, a mum of five, also never felt connected politically, until her sister ran for Council. For the first time ever she feels that now there is someone she can trust to understand her needs and who actually cares about representing families like her own.

Windy/Photo by Ness Patea

DON’T finishes by reminding us to question a system that fails to engage so many people.

Additional Content

The Spinoff have published a series of articles to support this documentary content. You can read all the articles at


Directed by Zoe Macintosh and Vanessa Patea
Produced by Ruth Korver
Written by Rachel Millar and Ruth Korver
Based on a concept by Rachel Millar
Production Manager – Vanessa Patea
Production Coordinator – Rhiain Love
Production Assistant – Erica Davidson
Researcher – Rachel Millar and Anita Ross
Production Accountant – Paul Jackson
Director of Photography – Tammy Williams
Camera Assistants – Angelu Cayanan, Jess Charlton, Julian Herrera, John Ross and Mike Potton
Sound Recordists – Joel Anscombe-Smith, Tony Spears, Grant Finlay and Wendy Adams
Stills Photography – Vanessa Patea
Editor – Trinity Ludlow-Hudson
Sound Mix – Ian Leslie
Graphics – Dylan Herkes
Online – Monarch Post

Maarametua, Awatea, Windy, Savana, Temperance, Richard Francois, Tania Sawicki-Mead, Professor Jack Vowles, Dr Bronwyn Hayward, Dr Maria Bargh, Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath and Emma Ng.

Ngā mihi nui:
Victoria University, Sarah Boyd, Just Speak, Auckland University, Betty Bernard, Canterbury University, Margaret Agnew, Luisa Leo, Screen Wellington, Alex Glasspool, Katie Frost, Pataka Gallery, Reuben Friend, Changing Minds, Red Door Recovery, Toni Taylor, Strathmore Community Hall, Delsyn, Sisi, Conna, Coopa, Harley, William, Ta’Samuela, Marriane Elliott, Tim Worth, Pikihuia Haenga, Manawa Karioi Ecological Restoration Project, Sarah Jane Parton, Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, Jane Paul, Getty Images, Rachel Jean, Shanara Wallace, Pounamu Tipiwai-Chambers, Joanne Heffernan, Ana Tovey, Melissa Donald, Dan Mills and Andrew Croot.

Written by Rhian Sheehan
Licensed courtesy of Loop
Footage from “Dawn Raids” (2005) courtesy of Isola Productions, NZ Herald and Getty Images.

Conference of Samoan chiefs at Vaimoso part of Conference of Samoan chiefs at Vaimoso. Gleeson, Francis Joseph 1908-1993 :Album of photographs of the Mau uprising, Western Samoa, 1930. Ref: PA1-o-795-14-5. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22844864

Voter information sourced from Statistics New Zealand and the Electoral Commission:
Stats NZ (2018). Voting and political participation. Retrieved from
Electoral Commission. Report into the 2017 General Election. Retrieved from

Executive Producers (Storybox) – Robert Appierdo and Jess Feast
Executive Producers (The Spinoff) – Toby Manhire, Duncan Greive and Kerryanne Nelson

A Storybox Production © 2018
Presented by The Spinoff
Made with the support of NZ on Air