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Civil & Political Rights:

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.

Current level and trends

1. General elections

As a result of the 2005 general election, women hold 39 of the 121 seats in Parliament, or 32 percent. This was up from 28 percent in 2002. 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. There was a further small rise to 31 percent in 1999, followed by a decline to 28 percent in 2002.

In 2005, women made up a far higher proportion of list MPs (44 percent) than electorate MPs (23 percent). In the 2002 election, the female proportions were similar in both categories.

The majority of women elected to Parliament in 2005 were list MPs (59 percent). The proportion of female electorate MPs increased from 29 percent in 1996 to 56 percent in 2002, but fell to 41 percent in 2005.

Figure CP2.1 Women as a proportion of elected Members of Parliament, 1984–2005

Figure CP2.1 Women as a proportion of elected Members of Parliament, 1984–2005

Sources: Electoral Commission (2002) p176; Electoral Commission (2006)

International comparison

At 32 percent in 2005, the percentage of women in New Zealand's Parliament is considerably higher than the OECD median of 22 percent in recent years.70 New Zealand ranks 9th equal out of 30 OECD nations. Sweden has the highest proportion of women MPs with 47 percent, followed by Finland (42 percent), Norway (38 percent), Denmark and the Netherlands (each 37 percent), and Spain (36 percent). Australia (25 percent), Canada (21 percent), the United Kingdom (20 percent) and the United States (16 percent) all have much lower female representation in national government than New Zealand .

Current level and trends

2. Local authority elections

In the 2004 local government elections, 566 women were elected to local authorities.71 This represented 30 percent of elected members. The proportion of women elected increased from 25 percent in 1989 to 31 percent in 1998 and remained at around that level in the two subsequent elections. In the 1980s, women were more highly represented in local government than in national government, but this was reversed in 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 women candidates were elected, compared with 44 percent of men. In 2004, 48 percent of female candidates were elected, compared with 49 percent of male candidates.

In 2004, women’s representation was highest on district health boards (43 percent), followed by city councils (34 percent) and community boards (32 percent). Between 2001 and 2004, the share of women remained about the same in all local authorities except city councils, where it fell from 39 to 34 percent.

The number of women elected to city council mayoral positions has remained steady at four (out of 16) for most election years since 1989. 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.

Table CP2.1 Proportion (%) of members who were women, by type of local body, 1989–2004

  1989 1992 1995 1998 2001 2004
Regional councils 22 25 29 28 26 25
District health boards 44 42
City councils 35 35 33 36 39 34
District councils 19 23 26 27 26 26
Community boards 29 32 33 35 31 32
Licensing and land trusts 30

Source: Department of Internal Affairs (2006) Table 6.4
Note: District councils 2001 revised by Department of Internal Affairs

Table CP2.2 Women mayors, 1989–2004

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

Source: Department of Internal Affairs (2006) Table 6.5
Notes: (1) There was no election in Rodney District in 2001 (2) Tauranga became a city council in 2004