Women in New Zealand

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Women in New Zealand
Maori woman Picturesque New Zealand, 1913.jpg
A Maori woman from New Zealand, 1913.
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value0.185 (2013)
Rank34th out of 152
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)15 (2010)
Women in parliament32.2% (2013)
Females over 25 with secondary education95.0% (2012)
Women in labour force62.1% (2012)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value0.801 (2018)
Rank7th out of 149

Women in New Zealand are women who live in or are from New Zealand. The first female settlers in New Zealand were Māori. The first known European woman to settle in New Zealand was Charlotte Badger.[3] Today, women in New Zealand, also called Kiwi women, are descended from European, Asian and Pacific Islander stock.

Notable New Zealand women[edit]


In 1877 Kate Edger was the first woman to earn a university degree in New Zealand as well as the first women in the British empire to earn a Bachelor of arts degree. Helen Connon was Canterbury college's first female student to graduate with a Bachelor of arts degree in 1880. In 1881 she went on to be the first woman in the British Empire to graduate with an Honors Degree.[4] Early university graduates were Emily Siedeberg (doctor, graduated 1895) and Ethel Benjamin (lawyer, graduated 1897). The Female Law Practitioners Act was passed in 1896 and Benjamin was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand in 1897.

Political and legal history[edit]

During the early-mid nineteenth century there were significant differences between the worlds of Maori and European women. While married European women were considered to be subsumed under their husbands' legal status and could not own land, high ranking Maori women could and did own and inherit land.[5] Many Maori women held positions of social influence and were signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi.[5]

The founders of European settlement in New Zealand such as Edward Gibbon Wakefield encouraged settlement by families instead of single men because women were believed to have a "civilising" influence[5] however the restricted position of women under English laws and customs increasingly constrained the actions of Maori and European women alike.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to allow women to vote.[6] This included both European and Maori women. However, it was not until 1919 that women were allowed to run for Parliament, and Elizabeth McCombs became the first women elected to the Parliament in 1933.[7] The 1940s were an important time for the progress of women in New Zealand. The absence of service men resulting from the demands of war lead to the first women police officers completing their training in 1941.On October 26, 1942 the Women Jurors Act was passed which for the first time allowed women between the ages of 25 and 60 to have their names placed on the jury list on the same basis as men. Elaine Kingsford was New Zealand's first female juror and she sat on a case at the Auckland Supreme Court in 1943. Mary Anderson became the first woman to sit on a Magistrate's Court Bench in 1943 and then in 1946 she and Mary Dreaver, a former Member of the House of Representatives, became the first women to be appointed to the Legislative Council.[8]

In 1949, Iriaka Ratana became the first Maori woman to win a seat in Parliament.[6]

In 1997 Jenny Shipley became the first woman Prime Minister of New Zealand. Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Shipley held several portfolios including Women's affairs, but was best known for Social welfare and Health, where she oversaw radical and sometimes controversial reforms driven by Ruth Richardson's policies.[9] After leaving Parliament, Shipley became a company director in Auckland, she also became Dame Jenny Shipley in 2009. Whilst Shipley was only Prime Minister for only two years, she held some strong and influential views on what constituted leadership. For Shipley, leadership meant that when things happen, you pick yourself up and make the best of the situation [10]

In 1999, Helen Clark became the second woman (and first elected woman) Prime Minister of New Zealand.[11] Clark served three terms in office and was Prime Minister until 2008. In 2017, the Richtopia list named Clark as the third most influential woman in the world.[12] When Clark resigned as Labour Party leader in 2008, she joined the UN, and in 2017 ran for the position of secretary general, though was unsuccessful. Clark says herself that while she did not find there was a glass ceiling in New Zealand to break, she met one in the UN where countries were just not used to women leaders, like New Zealand was.[13]

In 2017, Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand's third female Prime Minister.

As of June 2016, women make up 31.4% of the unicameral New Zealand Parliament. There are 121 members, 38 of whom are women.[14]

Economic status[edit]

The gender pay gap in New Zealand is 9.4%.[15] New Zealand now has a set of legislation to stop discrimination against women and protect human rights. Advancements like the Equal Pay Act of 1972 that requires employers to pay men and women the same wages for the same work and the Human Rights Commission Act of 1977. There has since been other major milestones such as the establishment of the Ministry of Women's Affairs in 1985; the introduction of parental leave in 1987; and the introduction of paid parental leave in 2002.[16]

The Development and Advancements of Women[edit]

Governmental goals[edit]

New Zealand's government is making efforts towards improving its overall economic status and prosperity through increasing Women's involvement and leadership in society.

In 2004, a five-year plan known as The Action Plan for New Zealand Women was launched in an attempt to progress work-life balance, economic stability, and well-being for women. In response to this proposed plan, 52 meetings along with stakeholder meetings took place in an effort to deliberate and advocate the new priorities for women.[17]

Disabled women's access to education and employment[edit]

As of 2006, about 332,600 women (16.2%) were considered to have a disability with only about 50% of those women having an involvement in the labor force as opposed to men with about 70% involved. Women with disabilities in New Zealand lack access to programs to help learn the ways to utilize their disabilities, potentially explaining the large number of women who are not in the labor force.[17]

However, in February 2009, a Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues was created by the government to target issues such as: modern disability support, making New Zealand accessible for the disabled, and getting more citizens to contribute to the effort. These efforts make up the vision outlined in the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

First women enter police training[edit]

When the pressure of the Second World War began to take a toll on the workforce, New Zealand's National Council of Women started pushing for the approval of female officers. In 1941 this idea became reality when 10 women from numerous parts of New Zealand were recruited. There were numerous requirements the trainees were required to meet, like being between 25 and 40 years of age, well educated, single, and a few others. The first 10 women to be recruited trained at the Police Training school in Wellington for three months. The women completed their training in October, then sent to work as temporary constables in various detective branches. They dealt mainly with cases involving women and delinquent children. Despite having full authority to arrest lawbreakers, the women were not uniformed until 1952.[18]

Discrimination, prejudice, and prostitution[edit]

Racial discrimination[edit]

Despite New Zealand being a country that consists of many different integrated cultures and referred to as one of the most tolerant countries in the world, the Māori and Pasifika continually face racial discrimination.[19] The main outlets of this racial discrimination typically tend to be work, education, and justice. The Māori and Pasifika people usually lack a solid educational foundation which ultimately increases their tendency to use drugs, alcohol, and inflates their unemployment and poverty rates. Māori struggle to find employment among a society in which they stand as outcasts with their lack of education. The State often argues that the cause of the inability for migrant populations to acquire jobs stands in the fact that many lack the necessary experience and ability to speak fluent English. Despite the Māori people usually not fulfilling the standards to be employed, the government is making efforts to advocate on behalf of the Māori and the advantages of having a diverse workforce in New Zealand.

Māori women[edit]

Māori women had a voice in their tribe and were able to inherit land. Women who belong to chiefly families were viewed as sacred and often performed special ceremonies like the karanga. Early European settlers generally thought that the Māori women did not have power and only negotiated with men. When the Europeans settled in the mid to late 19th century they brought with them their ideas about gender differences and inequalities that influenced laws, property rights, education and employment.[20] Although the Māori people are largely discriminated against as a whole, the women are the most heavily impacted by the gendered aspects of racial discrimination. Māori women are greatly impacted by their lack of access to employment and health and fear the violence that is inflicted upon many Māori women. However the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) shows deep concerns regarding the violence towards Māori women and is hoping to increase the prosecution rates of those who attack women.[19]


New Zealand is recognized as being one of the most liberal countries in the world regarding sex and prostitution laws. In June 2003, the Prostitution Reform Act was passed which decriminalized prostitution.[21] Prior to the Prostitution Reform Act, prostitution was still prevalent in New Zealand societies but more widespread and underground. Sex workers serve to benefit from this law as it provides them with a certain level of protection from the police force and allows for them to have specified rights. Brothels and areas of sex exchanges can be found all throughout New Zealand in modern-day society with Auckland offering the most services in the country.[22]

See also[edit]

Reference List[edit]

  1. ^ "Table 4: Gender Inequality Index". United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2018" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 10–11.
  3. ^ The first woman settler? - go-betweens
  4. ^ "First woman graduates from a New Zealand university | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". nzhistory.govt.nz. Retrieved 2018-07-31.
  5. ^ a b c Brookes, Barbara. A History of New Zealand Women. Bridget Williams Books.
  6. ^ a b "Māori Women and the Vote".
  7. ^ "Women's Suffrage: A Brief History".
  8. ^ "Women Jurors Act allows women to sit on juries | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". nzhistory.govt.nz. Retrieved 2018-07-31.
  9. ^ https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/jenny-shipley
  10. ^ 9th Floor Interview with Guyson Aspirer
  11. ^ "Biography - Helen Clark".
  12. ^ "Helen Clark ranked world's third most influential woman". Newshub. 2017-06-09. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  13. ^ Hunt, Elle (2017-06-14). "Helen Clark: I hit my first glass ceiling at the UN". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  14. ^ "Women in National Parliaments".
  15. ^ "Gender pay gap | Ministry for Women". women.govt.nz. Retrieved 2017-05-05.
  16. ^ "New Zealand women". women.govt.nz. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  17. ^ a b "The Status of Women in New Zealand" (PDF). Ministry for Women.
  18. ^ "First women enter police training | NZHistory, New Zealand history online". nzhistory.govt.nz. Retrieved 2018-07-31.
  19. ^ a b "Racial discrimination in New Zealand: Māori at the heart of the debate | WILPF". wilpf.org. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  20. ^ Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu. "Gender inequalities – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". teara.govt.nz. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  21. ^ "Decriminalising sex work in New Zealand: its history and impact". openDemocracy. 2015-08-20. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  22. ^ "Sex and Prostitution in New Zealand Tourism". TripSavvy. Retrieved 2017-07-31.

See also[edit]