A mere 129 years after women won the right to vote in NZ elections, and 89 years after the first woman member of parliament, Elizabeth McCoombs, was elected, we have finally achieved (binary) gender equality in the NZ parliament. The swearing-in this week of Labour list MP Soraya Peke-Mason, following the retirement of Trevor Mallard, brings the total number of female MPs to 60 – a slim majority even, as there are currently 59 male MPs. The imminent Hamilton-West by-election for the 120th seat could increase that majority one further, or leave us with an exact 50/50 male/female representation.
In 2018 (the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in NZ) I wrote a play called “The Fifty Percent Party“, in which three teenage girls develop a political party for a mock election at school, that has the mission of equality – including 50% female representation in parliament. This play was an update on “Women Like Us“, written in 1993 for the centenary of women’s suffrage, that covered the history of women in the NZ parliament from Elizabeth McCoombs to a fictional contemporary woman MP, and ended with imagining what parliament might be like if half the MPs were women. “The Fifty Percent Party” finishes with an updated version of the same scene followed by a rap in which the three teenagers declare their determination to not give up until the goal of fifty percent is achieved. So it’s wonderful to know that these characters’ dream is now a reality and some of the imagined benefits are already in place.
Of course, half male and half female doesn’t truly represent the gender diversity of the country, but let’s not forget that this country also elected the world’s first openly transgender member of parliament, Georgina Beyer, in 2005. A diversity of voices in government is fundamental for the development of an equitable society.
Here’s a post I wrote about the workshopping and development of “The Fifty Percent Party”, which also considers how much or little had changed for women’s equality in the 25 years since I wrote “Women Like Us”. Now I’ll have to start thinking about the next update!