Māori women fought alongside non-indigenous women for suffrage, but are they fairly represented in New Zealand’s House of Representatives?

By Maura Reilly on October 28, 2019

New Zealand’s actions for gender and Indigenous inclusion are working, it is now just a matter of ensuring Indigenous women have the same voice as their male and non-Indigenous counterparts. 


In 1893, New Zealand made history. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women universal suffrage. However, that is not to say that  in 1893 the women of New Zealand gained equality, or even a real voice in the national parliament. It wasn’t until 1919 that women were allowed to run for election, it wasn’t until 1933 that a woman actually won a seat in parliament, and it wasn’t until 1949 that a Māori woman won a seat in parliament. Despite this somewhat slow history of women gaining access and authority in the New Zealand legislature, the country still ranks above most of the world for gender parity in its national parliament, at 16th place according to the IPU's September 2019 rankings. The country has had three female Prime Ministers, including the current Prime Minister Jacinda Adern who last year gave birth while still in office. In 2001 New Zealand what has been termed a ‘clean sweep,’ women held all of the top positions in the government including Prime Minister, Governor-General, opposition leader, Chief Justice and Attorney General

Despite these amazing achievements for women in office, New Zealand, like many countries with Indigenous groups, fails to uphold the ideals of parity when it comes to Indigenous, Māori women. Although women traditionally held positions of leadership among the Māori, their disenfranchisement began with the entrance of British colonists. For the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which granted the British Crown control and authority over New Zealand, only 17 of the 500 Māori signatories were women, despite both Māori men and women alike owning land and holding positions of leadership. With the dawn of the New Zealand women’s suffrage movement, Māori women fought alongside non-indigenous women, supporting the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) while also fighting to their inclusion in the Māori Parliament, one of the most famous Māori suffragettes being, Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia. As one Māori writer puts it, the fight for “suffrage was just a small part of removing colonisation from their lives and returning us to the democratic power we always had." Although New Zealand has made efforts to uphold Indigenous voices in the parliament  by reserving seven seats for Indigenous candidates, only two of those seats are held by Māori women. One Labour member of parliament is a Māori woman, bringing the total number of Māori women in parliament to three out of 120, or 2.5 percent. 

New Zealand has an impressive record when it comes to gender equality and parity within the government. With the implementation of the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan in 2018, women now head 17 of the 33, or fifty-two percent of  public service departments across the government; the plan was put in place so the government could lead by example when it came to reaching parity. New Zealand’s actions for gender and Indigenous inclusion are working, it is now just a matter of ensuring Indigenous women have the same voice as their male and non-Indigenous counterparts.

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