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Representation of women in government


The proportion of elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and local government bodies who are women.


The representation of women in government can be seen as an indicator of political representation more generally. Representative political institutions engage a wide range of communities in the political process, draw on the talents and skills of the broadest group of people, and provide checks and balances on the use of political power.

1. General elections

Current level and trends

As a result of the 2008 general election, women held 41 of the 122 seats in Parliament, or 34 percent. This was up from 32 percent in 2005. Under the first-past-the-post electoral system, women’s representation in Parliament increased from 13 percent in 1984 to 21 percent in 1993, then rose sharply to 29 percent in the first mixed-member-proportional election held in 1996. Since then, with the exception of 2002, there have been small increases in the proportion of women in Parliament at each general election. Women were first represented in the New Zealand Parliament in 1933.

In the 2008 general election, women made up a higher proportion of list MPs (42 percent) than electorate MPs (27 percent). Female representation has been higher among list MPs than electorate MPs in each general election since 1996, except in the 2002 general election when the proportions of women in each category were similar.

The majority of women elected to Parliament in 2008 were list MPs (54 percent). List MPs have outnumbered electorate MPs among women elected to Parliament in four of the last five general elections. In contrast, the majority of men elected to Parliament are electorate MPs.

Figure CP2.1 Women as a proportion of elected Members of Parliament, 1984–2008

Figure CP2.1 Women as a proportion of elected Members of Parliament, 1984–2008

Sources: Electoral Commission (2002) p 176; Electoral Commission (2006); Wilson and Anderson (2008)

International comparison

At 34 percent in 2008, the percentage of women in New Zealand’s Parliament is considerably higher than the OECD median of 24 percent in recent years. New Zealand ranks ninth out of 30 OECD countries. Sweden has the highest proportion of women MPs with 46 percent, followed by Iceland (43 percent), the Netherlands (42 percent), Finland and Norway (each 40 percent), Denmark and Belgium (each 38 percent) and Spain (37 percent). New Zealand has considerably higher female representation in national government than Australia (27 percent), Canada and the United Kingdom (each 22 percent) and the United States (17 percent).83

2. Local authority elections

Current level and trends

In the 2007 local government elections, 579 women were elected to local authorities.84 This represented 32 percent of elected members. The proportion of women elected increased from 25 percent in 198985 to 31 percent in 1998 and remained at around that level in the two subsequent elections. In the 1990s and early-2000s, women were more highly represented in local government than in national government, but this trend has been reversed since the 2005 general election.

Female candidates were more likely than male candidates to be elected in each election year from 1989 to 1998, but this was reversed in 2001, when 41 percent of female candidates and 44 percent of male candidates were elected. In 2004, the proportions were more even (48 percent of female and 49 percent of male candidates elected). In 2007, female candidates were again more likely than male candidates to be elected (50 percent compared with 46 percent).

In 2007, women’s representation was highest on district health boards (46 percent), followed by city councils (37 percent). Between 2004 and 2007, the share of women increased in all types of local authorities except community boards and licensing and land trusts.

Table CP2.1 Proportion (%) of members who were women, by type of local body, 1989–2007

  1989 1992 1995 1998 2001 2004 2007
Regional councils 22 25 29 28 26 25 27
District health boards 44 42 46
City councils 35 35 33 36 39 34 37
District councils 19 23 26 27 26 26 28
Community boards 29 32 33 35 31 32 33

Source: Department of Internal Affairs (2009) Table 7.4
Notes: (1) District councils’ 2001 figures revised by the Department of Internal Affairs. (2) DHBs were established in 2001. (3) Trusts are not included because they are not local authorities.

The number of women elected to city council mayoral positions has remained fairly steady at three or four since 1989. Between 2004 and 2007 the figure fell from four to three out of 16. In contrast, the number of women mayors in district councils increased rapidly from six (out of 59) in 1989 to 15 in 1998, fell sharply to eight in 2001 and rose slightly to 10 in 2004 and 2007.

Table CP2.2 Women mayors, 1989–2007

  1989 1992 1995 1998 2001 2004 2007
City councils 4/14 4/15 3/15 4/15 4/15 4/16 3/16
District councils(1) 6/59(2) 9/59(3) 12/59 15/59 8/58(4) 10/58(5) 10/57(6)

Source: Department of Internal Affairs (2009) Table 7.5
Notes: (1) Includes Chatham Islands Council. (2) Chatham Islands Council did not elect a mayor in 1989. (3) Invercargill has been a city council since 1992. (4) There was no election in Rodney District in 2001. (5) Tauranga became a city council in 2004. (6) Banks Peninsula District was abolished and included in Christchurch City in 2006.

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