2019 marks 126 years of universal women’s suffrage in New Zealand. This is something that we can share with our global peers as an example of an inspiring human rights story. And it’s one to be proud of. New Zealand’s gender equality journey tells the world a story about a progressive nation while caring for our people and place.
New Zealand women won the right to vote when the Electoral Act 1893 passed on the 19th of September 1893. This paved the way for additional liberal reforms that earned New Zealand the reputation as the ‘social laboratory of the world’. These reforms included a universal accident compensation scheme, a 48-hour working week, and welfare protection for workers, children and the elderly.
New Zealand also has a proud history of female empowerment, including the first openly transsexual mayor and MP, Georgina Beyer, elected in 1999; the second-only country to have a pregnant Prime Minister (after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990); women in significant positions of power, including the current head of state (governor-general), prime minister, deputy speaker and chief justice; and almost 40 percent of Members of Parliament are female.
But we mustn’t stop here – there’s a bigger story to eventually tell. New Zealanders aspire to a truly gender-equal country in which women and girls can reach their full potential. And our journey so far is one to be proud of.
New Zealand is leading an initiative to eliminate the gender pay gap within the public sector and have extended paid parental leave to 22 weeks this year, increasing to 26 weeks from 2020.
We are encouraging women and girls into occupations where high growth is projected and where women are currently under-represented, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, construction and trades. ‘A Nation of Curious Minds, He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara’ is a cross-government initiative aimed at improving engagement with science and technology across all sectors of society.
We are also committed to improving the gender balance amongst senior leadership positions in the public sector and supporting women to realise their leadership potential. Our Ministry for Women has collaborated with chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, industry training organisations, trade associations and other government departments to promote gender diversity and greater workplace flexibility for both women and men.
This New Zealand story is grounded in our values – it’s who we are and what we stand for. It demonstrates New Zealand’s value beyond natural beauty and how we effectively contribute to making the world a better place.
On this day we honour the women and men who fought for universal suffrage. And, as a nation, we are committed to continuing the struggle for equality for all – so we can continue to evolve our New Zealand Story.
So, if you're looking for world firsts in human rights, equality and realisation of potential... We know a place.
Photo Credit: 'Kate Sheppard', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/kate-sheppard, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Mar-2018