As the first Indian born woman Member of Parliament in New Zealand, I am proud of the work that women before me did to make a path for me to get elected. There are several interesting facts about New Zealand’s social journey since women got the vote in 1893.
One hundred and twenty-five years ago this month when our Governor, Lord Glasgow, signed the new Electoral Act which allowed women the vote, it was landmark legislation. Quite suddenly, the number of eligible voters in New Zealand doubled. When referring to that breakthrough it’s important not to take anything away from the ‘Kiwi Suffragettes’, led by Kate Sheppard, who had presented massive petitions to New Zealand’s Parliament calling on the leaders of the country to grant women the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. It is fitting that Kate Sheppard’s momentous contribution to New Zealand’s history has been acknowledged for all to see on our ten dollar note.
New Zealand was an early innovator – and it’s fair to say that our world leadership in women’s suffrage became a central part of our image as a trail-blazing ‘social laboratory’. Indeed, most other democracies did not move forward to the point New Zealand had reached in social advancement for another thirty years. Britain and the United States did not grant women the right to vote until after the First World War.
For New Zealand women the journey has been long and interesting and being patient has definitely been a virtue here. It was not until 1919 that women got the right to stand for Parliament. Interestingly three women contested the General Election that year but all failed. Forty years after women got the vote our first woman MP entered our Parliament.
As part of New Zealand’s trail blazing in this area, both race and gender took prominence, but as the old proverb says ‘good things take time’. I was very proud to be the first Indian born MP in New Zealand’s Parliament in the 2014 General Election.
All New Zealand women irrespective of their race or background can be proud to be part of such a progressive country, but 125 years on there is still work to be done in the area of gender equality. Pay parity and equal opportunities are just two areas of concern which as an MP I am keen to progress to ensure that New Zealand keeps that ‘trailblazer’ status which sets us apart on the world stage.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar is the National List MP based in Mount Roskill. She is the Opposition Spokesperson for Research, Science and Innovation, Opposition Associate Spokesperson for Economic Devolvement and the Chair of the Parliamentary Education and Workforce Select Committee.