MMP Works for Women
MMP works for women. More women have been elected to parliament in the last 12 years under MMP (62) than in the previous 77 years under FPP (44). It’s not just about how many women are in Parliament today, but how MMP has made standing for and being elected to Parliament much more accessible to women of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life.
We must continue to improve our electoral system. We have done so with MMP so that parliament is fairer and more representative of the community. We need to keep improving it. A vote for MMP in the upcoming referendum is a vote to review and improve MMP. That’s why it is so important to keep MMP. If we continue the struggles of our grandmothers and kuia, we leave a positive and powerful legacy for our daughters and for our country.
It is widely known that the percentage of women in the New Zealand Parliament has increased dramatically under MMP – a third of current MPs are women. What is rarely discussed is the equally dramatic increase in the number of women elected to Parliament during the 12 years of MMP elections compared to the First Past the Post years.
We know New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote and we have enjoyed universal suffrage since 1893. The picture of women being elected to Parliament in the years before the Second World War is less rosy. Women were granted the right to stand for Parliament in 1919. The first women Elisabeth Coombes was not elected until just before the War in 1933. The first Māori woman, Iriaka Ratana was not elected until 1947, some 54 years after winning the right to vote and 28 years after winning the right to stand for Parliament.
The factors influencing women’s participation in politics at the highest level at that time were well known: the idea of ‘a women’s place is in the home’, ideas about the propriety of women mixing in predominantly male company, to beliefs about women’s intelligence and competence.
Of course all throughout this period and in the 50 years following the War women belonged to political parties in their thousands, but they would too often be found making the tea and taking the minutes rather than in leadership roles.
Second wave feminism of the 70’s in New Zealand gave a spur to women as candidates and just prior to the end of ‘first past the post’ in 1996 women for the first time made up a fifth of members of Parliament.
The startling change came with MMP. In the 12 short years of MMP 62 of the 106 women who had ever been an MP were elected to Parliament. The numbers are even more startling for Māori women. Only 3 Māori women were ever elected under FPP. Under MMP there have been at least 12.
This number of women leaders provided something that was missing under FPP Parliaments – a pool of talented women who could be cabinet ministers. And we have seen how women have in recent times occupied the highest levels of public office; Governor General, Speaker of the House, Prime Minister, Attorney General. We have also seen how easily those gains can be taken from women if there is not constant vigilance. Not even one woman occupies any of these or similar positions at present.
The Green Party, in terms of women’s leadership, is the first party to have a majority of women in caucus and the only party to have clear gender equity rules in its list formation to ensure the best possible equitable mix of genders in high list placings. These rules are necessary. It is not enough to just allow for women’s involvement – the structures themselves must be changed. MMP has proven how important that is.
MMP has undoubtedly improved the political representation of women. But we know we have a long way yet to go. Whilst we can hold our heads up amongst the likes of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark (all proportional representation countries) in terms of the number of women in Parliament, we still have a problem of the number of women putting themselves forward as candidates.
Roughly 30% of parliamentary candidates are women. The smaller the pool of women candidates the less likely we can attain parity. We need to encourage women of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life put themselves forward for election. Many women have concerns about the relentless MP lifestyle, the time away from home, the inevitable intrusion into one’s private life. But the process of parliamentary politics will only change with the engagement of women who make demands and reform the process to one better meets the needs of women, both women in parliament and New Zealand women overall.
I believe MMP which has only just begun its work (12 years compared with 90 years under FPP) will get us closer to this goal as we continue to improve it for ourselves and for our daughters.
Metiria Turei, MP and Chair of MMP Group