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Women still chasing equality, 120 years on

Thursday 19 Sep 2013 2:53p.m.

Women still chasing equality, 120 years on

As New Zealand marks 120 years of women's suffrage, MPs are trumpeting equality - yet only a third of them are female.

Thursday marks 120 years since changes to the Electoral Act were signed into law on September 19, 1893, making New Zealand the first country in the world where all adults - including women - had the right to vote.

The changes followed a long campaign by noted suffragette Kate Sheppard and other Kiwi women and men.

The number of female MPs has become far more representative over time, since women gained the right to stand for parliament in 1919:

  • 1931: one MP out of 80 seats (1.25 per cent)
  • 1966: six MPs out of 80 seats (7.5 per cent)
  • 1993: 21 MPs out of 99 seats (21.2 per cent)
  • 1999: 37 MPs out of 120 seats (30.8 per cent).

But 120 years on, just 41 of parliament's 121 MPs are female.

The National Party issued a statement on Thursday to say its female MPs were marking Suffrage Day - all 15 of them, in a caucus of 59 MPs.

They held an event on Wednesday night to pay tribute to National's first female MP, Dame Hilda Ross, who entered parliament in 1945, with New Zealand's first female prime minister, former National MP Dame Jenny Shipley, as guest speaker.

Women's Affairs Minister Jo Goodhew says work is still needed to improve the lives of women, and the government is committed to making more progress - with no details of commitments.

Of all the parties in parliament with more than one MP, National has the lowest female representation (25 per cent), and the 20-member cabinet includes just six women.

The Greens have the highest female representation, with eight of their 14 MPs, or 57 per cent, female, followed by NZ First, with three of seven MPs (42 per cent), Labour with 13 of 33 MPs (39 per cent), and the Maori Party, with one of three MPs (33 per cent).

However, female MPs can take heart knowing New Zealand's parliament is streets ahead of Australia, where new Prime Minister Tony Abbott's put just one woman in cabinet, and kept the role of women's minister for himself.

NZN

 
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