Feminism in New Zealand

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Feminism in New Zealand began in 1840,[citation needed] when the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi created New Zealand as part of the British Empire under Queen Victoria. The British government passed the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 which granted limited-self rule, an estimated three-quarters of the adult male European population in New Zealand had the right to vote in the first elections in 1853. Māori first voted in 1868 and women voted in 1893.

In New Zealand there was a distinct history of settler capitalism and homogeneity from subsequent migrant flows, thus the feminist challenges primarily arose from Maori women. Feminists began to emerge throughout the 1960s. Unlike feminism that reguarded race, or post colonialism, New Zealand feminism was connected with the existing progressive political organizations. By the 1970s the 1st ‘women’s liberation’ groups began to appear, many of whom were middle class Pakeha women.

New Zealand was the first country in the world in which the five highest offices of power were held by women, which occurred between March 2005 and August 2006, with the Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II of New Zealand, Governor-General Silvia Cartwright, Prime Minister Helen Clark, Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives Margaret Wilson and Chief Justice Sian Elias.[1]


Prior to European settlement of New Zealand, kinship systems in Māori tribes were often arranged matrilineally.[2] Diplomacy and rituals of exchange between Māori tribes were also often arranged according to the concept of mana wahine, the prestige and political power held by a woman or the women of a tribe. Today, numerous Māori iwi and hapu descended from such women insist on identifying themselves as being "the people of" that particular female ancestor. For example, on the East Coast of the North Island a prominent iwi group is Ngāti Kahungunu, eponymous of the male ancestor Kahungunu. However within the Mahia area of that region, there is a local preference for the name Ngāti Rongomaiwahine; Rongomaiwahine being known as the more prestigious ancestor of the people there.[3] Similar insistence is made by members of Ngāti Hinemoa and Ngāti Hinemanu.

Recent scholarship has challenged the popular notion that pre-colonial Māori societies were strictly patriarchal; some Māori scholars have suggested that the solidification of a patriarchal structure in Māori societies was shaped by colonial contact, largely through the expectations and prejudices of European settler-traders and Christian missionaries.[4][5]


Gender Shift[edit]

In the 1870s the government initiated a campaign to encourage more women to move to New Zealand. They did this by giving them the prospect of working with more pay than being at home. By 1916 and 1941 the inequality issue began to dissipate, and the gender differences were about equal. By 1971 the gender shift began and women began to outnumber the men. By 2001 there were 104 women to every 100 men.The female population is soon to outrank the male population by 2051,[6] because of the high mortality rate among men aged 15–24, and the female life expectancy is expected to increase much faster than males.[8]

Age structure[edit]

The average age for the people of New Zealand is 36 with 12.6% being over the age of 65 and 21.5% under the age of 25.[8] Yet, for the Māori people the average age is 23 years old with 4.1% aged over 65 and 35.4% aged under 15.


In 2001 the gender differences in New Zealand were exponential having 63,000 more women than men.[9] According to current census records, this trend is expected to continue. There are other anticipated key issues expected to occur in the lives of the New Zealand women including:

  • a decline in the birth and fertility rates in the younger women, and childbearing in later years
  • the family structure has changed with the decline in marriage rates, increase in divorce rates, and increase in reconstituted families
  • women's incomes are still below men
  • continuous segregation in occupations as women still make up more than 90% of the secretarial, nursing, and maid positions while men are often carpenters, joiners, mechanics, fitters, and heavy truck drivers.
  • there are more younger Maori women than older Maori women.
  • There is a higher fertility and childbearing rate among the younger Maori women than the non-Maori women
  • There are higher mortality rates among the Maori women, especially the very young and middle-aged
  • the younger women are more qualified educationally in all ethnic groups than the older women.[10]

Important Changes and Initiatives[edit]

  • Increase in the number of women in self-employment
  • increase in organisations/networks such as WISE, Women into Self-Employment.
  • development of gender analysis methodology
  • increase in "out of school" care offered to low income communities
  • increase in government cooaporation to overcome gender bias in employment towards the Maori, Pacific Island, rural and urban women.
  • more attention to child care provision and paid parent leave, thus allowing more women to participate in employment
  • renewed look on retirement income, especially those of Maori women.
  • increase in participation of women in local governmental affairs, including taking office such as mayors.
  • improvements on the anti-domestic violence legislation (1995)
  • national breast screening programme
  • Free visits to medical practitioners for children under 6 years old
  • In 2000 the Property (Relationships) Bill was introduced which allows women to have access to property and earnings following a marriage or de facto relationship break down. This law also applies to same sex couples, given they have lived together for three years.[11]

Families and households[edit]

From 1971 and 2001 some differences have occurred in how new Zealand families. In 1971 the family was commonly a legally married husband and a wife with about 3 children. The men were the ones that went out to get the money for the household, while the women stayed at home and raised the children. over the past 30 years this idea has changed due to bringing in different cultural ideals, family patterns, and contributions. Mäori women are less likely to marry and more likely to live in extended family situations.

Opposition to Change[edit]

Though the past century has brought about many gains in women's rights and feminism and they continue to effect levels of attainment for the women in New Zealand.There are women in power positions available to be seen for the public eye, but for the average New Zealand women there is still a constant reminder of male domination in matters of decision making, occupation and income, retirement provision, home ownership, and family responsibility. The government favors the state initiatives for the sake of strengthening the economic base and communities. The Right-Wing governments have also taken a hold of the neo-liberalism reform that subverts the gender compromise grasping the metropolitan welfare system. It also undermines the progress in sex-reform that include anti-discrimination provisions, child care services, etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kate Rowan: New Zealand, an unexpected world-beater". Independent.ie. Retrieved 2017-06-06. 
  2. ^ Ballara, Angela (1998). Iwi : the dynamics of Maori tribal organisation from c.1769 to c.1945. Victoria University Press. ISBN 0864733283. 
  3. ^ Whaanga, Mere. "Ngāti Rongomaiwahine". 
  4. ^ Stewart-Harawira, Makere. "Practising Indigenous Feminism". 
  5. ^ Murphy, Ngāhuia. "Te Awa Atua, Te Awa Tapu, Te Awa Wahine: An examination of stories, ceremonies and practices regarding menstruation in the pre-colonial Māori world" (PDF). 
  6. ^ a b "Timeline". NewZealand.govt.nz. Ministry of women's affairs. Retrieved 2011-10-25. 
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  8. ^ a b "quickstats about New Zealand". statisphere.govt.nz. Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  9. ^ Magee, Ann (April 2001). "Asia Pacific Viewpoint". Ebscohost. 42 (1): 36. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  10. ^ Magee, Ann (April 2001). "Asia Pacific Viewpoint". Ebscohost. 42 (1): 37. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  11. ^ Magee, Ann (April 2001). "Asia Pacific Viewpoint". Ebscohost. 42 (1): 38. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]