In 'da House | Issue 25

In 'da House | Issue 25

Old Boysí Club

As I write this, it is 119 years to the day since New Zealand became the first country in the world to recognise womenís right to vote. Thanks Kate Sheppard. Heart you.

New Zealanders are rightly proud that we were the first to do this. Smug, even. And fair enough; itís awesome.

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that our world-leading stance on suffrage was as much to do with a desire to advance the cause of alcohol prohibition and to embarrass Richard Seddon as it was to do with enlightened egalitarianism and gender equality. For more details, see Dr Mike Stevens in the History Department, who will be happy to tell you more.

Itís also worth noting that it took until 1919 for women to be granted the corresponding right to stand for office, and until 1933 for a woman to actually be elected to Parliament. She was Elizabeth McCombs.

From then until the mid 1980s, we never had more than 5 or 6 woman MPs in Parliament at any given time. Given that I find Parliament to be a bit of an old boysí club in 2012, I can only imagine what it was like for those women.

The big change came in 1996, with the introduction of MMP. Immediately, womenís representation in Parliament rocketed to around 30 percent. That it has resulted in more women in Parliament is one of the great things about MMP.

However, the percentage of women in Parliament has effectively plateaued since 1996. In the (current) 50th Parliament, there are 39 of us, or 32 percent. How to overcome this plateau is a matter of some considerable concern to me (because I am very earnest about these things).

Are high-calibre female candidates put off standing for Parliament by its old boysí club reputation? Or by the more procedural challenges like the late nights (Parliament sits until 10pm), the travel for MPs based out of Wellington, and the crazy workload?

Itís a chicken and egg thing: changing the blokey old boysí club nature of Parliament will produce more woman MPs, but we need more woman MPs to change the blokey old boysí club nature of Parliament.

Ultimately I think we need some pretty fundamental structural changes, not just to Parliamentís processes, but also in the way we value and support women in our communities.

In the meantime, those of us in here right now will keep fighting the good fight. It would be wicked to have some more awesome ladies in here to join us.
This article first appeared in Issue 25, 2012.
Posted 4:25pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 by Holly Walker.