Gender equality isn’t a new concept in New Zealand, being the first country in the world where women won the right to vote in 1893. This year, on the 19th September 2023, we mark 130 years of universal women’s suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Whether it’s at home, school, the workplace, or in government – Aotearoa New Zealand is a society that is deeply committed to gender equality – with the foundations laid by trailblazing suffragettes.
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. in 1999, the first openly transgender mayor and MP, Georgina Beyer, was elected. Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed her first baby in office in 2018, only the second Prime Minister globally to do so (after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990). New Zealand currently has women in significant positions of power, including the current head of state (Governor-General), Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Chief Justice. In 2023, New Zealand also reached gender equity in its government cabinet for the first time in its history.
But we mustn’t stop. New Zealanders aspire to a truly gender-equal country in which everyone can reach their full potential, and our journey so far is one to be proud of.
New Zealand is tackling unequal pay. In 2020 an amendment to the Equal Pay Act 1972 was passed, which made it easier for workers to raise pay equity claims with their employers.
In certain jobs where most of the work has been performed by women, wages have often been lower than jobs where the work has been done mainly by men. A lower wage due to historical or current pay discrimination isn’t fair.
New Zealand recognises that men and women should receive the same pay for doing different jobs that are not only of equal value with similar skills – but also comparable experience, responsibilities, working conditions, and degrees of effort.
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.
On this day we honour the women and men who fought for universal suffrage. And today, we are proud that New Zealand ensures the country continues to work toward a fairer and more equal society.
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