Wanted: good women MPs

Last updated 15:12 08/12/2011

There are not a lot of glass ceilings left in New Zealand for women to break through. Two of the last three prime ministers were women. Two of the last five governors-general were women. The Speaker of the House before the current one was a woman. The chief justice role has been held by a woman since 1999 and Dame Sian is not due to retire until 2021. Also the then largest company in New Zealand (Telecom) was headed by a woman just a few years ago.

Many Kiwis know, and are proud, that New Zealand was the first independent country to have women able to vote, in 1893. It is incredible to think that it was just 120 years ago that women were not possessed of the same human rights as men. It was ironically WWII that changed society's expectations about women working, as so many stepped up to do the jobs of those who went abroad to fight Hitler.

The first woman to be elected to any office was Elizabeth Yates, who was elected mayor of Onehunga in 1893. However, women could not stand for Parliament until 1919. The first elected female MP was Elizabeth McCombs in 1933, winning the Lyttelton seat in a by-election caused by her husband's death. McCombs was Labour. The first National woman MP was Mary Grigg, elected in 1942. In 1947 Mabel Howard became the first female minister and two years later Hilda Ross became National's first female minister. Progress moves slowly!

Though in 2011 there are not many glass ceilings to break, there is still a serious under-representation of women in Parliament. Sadly the proportion of women in Parliament dropped this year for the first time since 1996.

Now I'm not one of those who advocates that Parliament must or should exactly match the population in gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, left-handedness and so on. I think competence and quality is the most important qualification. However, so long as the MPs are high quality and competent, I think it is desirable that Parliament is indeed a House of Representatives, and our Representatives do reflect the diversity of New Zealand.

So I would like to see more quality, competent women elected into Parliament. But working out what the major barriers are is not so easy. As I see it, there are three potential barriers to more women becoming MPs.

  1. Fewer women want to be MPs, and make themselves available for selection.
  2. Women who do make themselves available for selection fail to win selection for winnable electorates or high list rankings.
  3. Women candidates do not attract as much support as male candidates in general elections.

I do not believe (3) is a barrier. I do not think there are a huge number of New Zealanders who vote against a candidate just because they are a woman. And if we look at electorate seats that have changed hands in the last two elections where the candidates were of different genders, we have:

Seats where a woman won a seat off a man - Taupo, Te Tai Tonga, Waimakariri, Christchurch Central*

Seats where a man won a seat off a woman - Rotorua, Te Tai Tonga

As an election meeting hosted by the Wellington Young Feminists Collective, I asked the candidates about what they see as the barrier, and most seemed to think the major barrier is that fewer women make themselves available for nomination because of the adversarial nature of our political system.

Some parties, such as the Greens, actually have a quota system where their rules insist there must be a female co-leader and women must make up at least four of the top 10 on their list. I personally do not like quotas, but some say they are the only way to get a proportionate number of women into Parliament.

Do you think there should be more women MPs, or do you not think it is a big issue? If you think there should be more women MPs, how do you think it is best to achieve this?

David Farrar is a centre-right blogger affiliated to the National Party. His disclosure statement is here.

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davidc   #1   03:22 pm Dec 08 2011

Why? Choose on merit not gender.

m0rph3us   #2   03:42 pm Dec 08 2011

Firstly, I have to say that I think quota systems like that of the Greens are silly and actually a form of discrimination. Selection should be on merit, and no one person should be selected or not because of age, sex, race, hair colour, etc.

That being said I agree with David's view that there clearly aren't enough women in Parliament - and there must be some systemic reason for that because I am sure there are plenty of women out there that have a lot more to offer Parliament than Winnie or Richard Prosser.

Dave   #3   03:47 pm Dec 08 2011

I firmly believe the someone does not need to be representative of me in order to represent me. Otherwise we would all need to be MP's as, due to our uniqueness, there would be no way that 120 mps could represent the possible combinations of demographics.

Amanda   #4   03:49 pm Dec 08 2011

I think it's very easy to say that we need to choose on merit, not gender. I certainly agree that selecting someone because they are female over an equally qualified male candidate is the wrong attitude. I am also wary of anything that claims to close gender pay gaps or ensure that women are equally represented. The way I was brought up, means that when I want something, I work for it myself. I certainly don't want to wait around for a government to force people to give me a pay rise or job because I'm female! But do sometimes people doubt what I can or should do because I'm a woman? That's a different question. I don't think the answers are in forcing equality. They're found in influencing the minds of the people we actually interact with.

seth   #5   03:49 pm Dec 08 2011

It goes both ways David - if you look at some of the female members of Labour and The Greens, I would say its probably a bad thing, based on that evidence.

For example Claire Curran and Jacinda Adern - some of the stuff that comes from their mouths is so naieve and/or misplaced that I find it hard to believe they are being serious most of the time.

B   #6   03:53 pm Dec 08 2011

When you look at the appalling examples of Collins, Tolley, and Wilkinson, you could only conclude that we need fewer women MPs, not more. In fact, we just need fewer National women MPs.

Paula W   #7   03:55 pm Dec 08 2011

Well its depends who you ask David, I know thre is one doctor in Wellington who still thinks women are inferior to men.

Mark W   #8   03:56 pm Dec 08 2011

We need good MPs...we don't have any!!!!

JTS   #9   03:57 pm Dec 08 2011

I think the main problem is the lack of women as candidates. I voted for a female National Party candidate. Though she was unsuccessful, not for one second did I consider that she was inadequate because of her gender. However, I fear that having been defeated at her first attempt, she may give up, whereas I suspect a male candidate might be more likely to see that failure differently - and as more of a motivation to give it another crack. I think the perception that women are less electable is more severe than the fact.

ian of tawa   #10   03:58 pm Dec 08 2011

selecting, or not selecting, representives, or any role, based soley on their gender is bigoted. NZ and all other nations should be seeking to remove gender based selection. people should be in the board room, parliment, teaching, etc as they are the best person, with the best skill set availble for the job. nz should be up in arms when people suggest that someone should get a job because of their bits, unless they are a stripper and not having the bits would comprimise the job.


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