WELLINGTON – For the first time in New Zealand's history, a majority of lawmakers are women.
Soraya Peke-Mason from the liberal Labour Party was sworn in to Parliament on Tuesday, replacing former Speaker Trevor Mallard, who left to become ambassador to Ireland. With the resignation of another male lawmaker, it has tipped the balance in Parliament to 60 women and 59 men.
“Whilst it's a special day for me, I think it's historic for New Zealand,” Peke-Mason told reporters.
The milestone places New Zealand among a half-dozen nations in the world that this year can claim at least 50% female representation in their parliaments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Other nations include Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates.
Globally, about 26% of lawmakers are women, according to the union.
New Zealand has a history of strong female representation. In 1893, it became the first nation to allow women to vote. Current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is the nation's third female leader, and women currently also hold a number of other top roles including chief justice of New Zealand's Supreme Court and governor-general.
“I’m just really pleased that my daughters are growing up in a country where women being equally represented in public life is just normal,” said Nicola Willis, the deputy leader of the conservative National Party.
Marama Davidson, co-leader of the liberal Green Party, was more blunt.
“About blimmin' time,” she told reporters.
Ardern cautioned that the situation for women in many other countries was precarious.
“As we step forward, it feels as if we watch so many women experiencing a rapid slide backwards in progress,” she said.
And reaching gender parity could prove only transitory. Opinion polls indicate that New Zealand's conservative parties, which currently have a lower proportion of women than their liberal rivals, are poised to make gains during next year's general election.