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Brief history of female leaders

Today, 130 years ago, prominent Māori female activist Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia [Te Rarawa] addressed the Kotahitanga Māori parliament – the first woman known to have done so.

According to a Parliamentary Libary research paper, the Māori parliament was part of the Māori nationalism movement, where Māori attempted to create separate Māori political institutions from the New Zealand Parliament.

The Māori parliament was not recognised by the New Zealand Government but existed from 1892 until 1902.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage-run website New Zealand History said Mangakāhia asked the Kotahitanga that women be allowed to participate in the selection of parliamentary members and sit in parliament.

“Many Māori women owned and administered their own land, she observed – either because they lacked male relatives or were more competent.”

Mangakāhia was married to Hāmiora Mangakāhia, the Premier of the Kotahitanga Māori parliament.

On September 19, just months after Mangakāhia’s parliamentary address, New Zealand women were granted the right to vote.

The legislation made New Zealand the first self-governing nation in the world where women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

Many other nations did not follow suit until after World War I.

According to New Zealand History, it remains unknown how many Māori women signed the suffrage petition, but about 4000 voted in the 1893 elections.

“Even so, Māori women did not win the right to vote in Kotahitanga parliamentary elections until 1897.”

Mangakāhia, in partnership with Niniwa i te Rangi from Wairarapa, started a column named Te Reiri Karamu [The Ladies’ Column] in Te Tiupiri [The Jubilee].

“The robust intellectual debates carried on in letters and articles in Te Tiupiri and other Māori newspapers show that Māori women were highly engaged in issues of women’s rights in this era,” New Zealand History said.

Now, almost 130 years after women were granted the right to vote, 61 per cent of our Members of Parliament are female, compared with 9 per cent in 1981.

Although Kiwi women have had the right to vote for almost 130 years, it’s worth remembering that the first time a woman was elected to lead the nation was less than 25 years ago.

The first elected female Prime Minister was Labour’s Helen Clark, who took the role on December 10, 1999.

However, our first female Prime Minister came two years earlier. Jenny Shipley replaced Jim Bolger as leader of the National Party and became Prime Minister on December 8, 1997.

Although New Zealand has been relatively progressive for women, that reality is not always reflected elsewhere.

One of the world’s most powerful nations has never been led by a woman – the United States of America.

Adding to the United States of America, China, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have not had a female leader in “modern times”.

According to University of California, Berkeley researchers, although many Americans believe women are just as deserving as men when it comes to leadership, gender bias remains, making it hard for women to attain the highest office.

But surely, within the next 130 years, women may have held leadership roles in every nation.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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