Sunday, September 19, 2010

Suffrage day

Today is Suffrage Day. One hundred and seventeen years ago today, on September 19 1893, the Electoral Bill became law and New Zealand women gained the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. Its a day worth celebrating, one we should be marking as a public holiday. But its also a day for reflection. And this year I'd like everyone to reflect on the remarkable difference MMP has made to women's representation in New Zealand.


(Graph from Representing Women: MMP and women’s political representation in New Zealand, by Ana Gilling and Sandra Grey).

Up until 1981, you could generally count the number of women in the New Zealand Parliament at any one time on the fingers of one hand. Things began to change in the 80's, with women's representation rising to 10% of the House, and then 20% in 1993. MMP almost doubled that, and while the proportion of female MPs slipped in 2002 (thanks to NZ First and United Future), it has generally stayed above 30%. This is not a change that would have happened under FPP - the data on electorate MPs shows that. MMP has meant a significant advance for women's representation, with a consequent flow-on effect on policy. We have MMP to thank for paid parental leave, flexible working hours, the families and children's commissioners, and the anti-smacking law. And these are policies the suffragettes would have been proud of.

Next years referendum puts that representation and those achievements at risk. Don't let it happen. If we want to protect women's voice in parliament, then we need to protect MMP as well.

Correction: Corrected figures. This is what hapens if you a) change graphs halfway through writing the post; and b) misinterpret the original graph from the Social Report. Mea culpa, mea culpa etc. But the key point remains: MMP has massively increased women's representation in Parliament, and that progress is potentially at risk.