I have been a feminist all my life and worked to advance the status of women field for most of it. I migrated to New Zealand partly because of Aotearoa’s reputation for being socially progressive particularly in the area of women’s rights.
We proudly lay claim to the fact that in 1893, we became the first self-governing country in the world where women fought and won the right to vote. Forty years later in 1933, New Zealand had its first (Labour) woman Member of Parliament (MP) when Elizabeth McCombs was elected the Member for Lyttelton.
Today, 38 per cent of our House of Representatives is made up of women and I’m proud to be one of them. The Green Party and the Labour Party have the highest percentage and number of women MPs respectively.
As at 2018, New Zealand has had three women Prime Ministers. We also have, for a second time, the trifecta of top positions in the country –Prime Minister (PM), Governor General and Chief Justice –being held by women. We have a PM and Minister for Women who have chosen motherhood and political office. Their partners are role modelling fulltime fatherhood. At a time when the women’s rights movement continues the fight to advance the status of women in New Zealand and globally, they make a powerful statement against rigid gender norms and stereotypes.
As we celebrate 125 years of suffrage in New Zealand, we must look back on our achievements with pride. We must pause to celebrate our successes, past and present.
It is also an opportune time to acknowledge that there is still more that needs to be done to advance the status of all women in New Zealand. We have a persistent gender pay gap, which is currently 9.2 per cent. The pay gap is worse for some women, including for Asian women. Women are still
over-represented as victim/survivors of family violence; under-represented on boards and other decision-making roles and perform the majority of unpaid, often unrecognised caring work.
Our demographics have changed dramatically. We have over 200 ethnicities represented in New Zealand, who collectively speak over 160 languages.
As an MP, I have met some amazing people whose paths I would not have otherwise crossed. Many of them are women with incredible stories to tell. We have so many women who have fought – and continue to fight – for what they believe in and work to change the structures that exclude ethnic women from various spheres.
As we celebrate 125 years of suffrage in New Zealand, I also pay tribute to women from ethnic communities in New Zealand who have fought to break barriers, overcome challenges and pave the way for the next generation of ethnic women leaders.