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Being a Woman in New Zealand

There’s a lot of good news when it comes to being a woman in New Zealand. The country has twice been run by women, and they’ve been able to vote since 1893, but the good news extends beyond politics. More than half of the students enrolled in tertiary (college and university) education are female. So Kiwi women are at least as educated as their male counterparts. In fact, 87 percent of Kiwi women complete the highest level of high school, compared with 67 percent of men.

Generally, women are well treated and respected in New Zealand. Discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal. Open harassment is unusual (except perhaps in a pub full of extremely drunk men), and in most places it’s safe for women to walk the streets alone, even at night. Common sense should always prevail, however, and accepting rides from strangers carries a certain risk.

Woman holding a business card with the flag of New Zealand.
Photo © Micha Klootwijk/123rf.

The picture isn’t all rosy, though. There are still problems with violence against women in New Zealand, particularly domestic violence. Police calls for family violence (which would include spousal abuse and child abuse) average about 200 per day.

Women are also at some disadvantage in the workplace, particularly if they have children. Most women in New Zealand work outside of the home. Some do take time to raise their children without working, but fewer and fewer families can afford to get by on one income. The government does provide some subsidies for families with children under the “Working for Families” scheme. Most families still rely on the mother to take primary responsibility for raising children, often at the detriment of her career. Many women compromise by working part-time while their children are young, coincidentally during their prime earning years. Mothers also have more difficulty getting executive positions, since they are unable to devote as many hours to the workplace. Of course, none of this is news to women from the United States or Canada, who face many of the same challenges.

Women in Power

Being the first country to grant women the right to vote back in 1893, New Zealand features women in a lot of powerful roles. The country is doing well on the equality front by global standards: According to the United Nations, New Zealand ranks fifth in the world for equality for women. This includes areas like education and pay rates.

Women in Politics

Two women have held the position of prime minister so far in New Zealand, and around one-third of parliament is female.

Wellington is now on its third female mayor, Celia Wade Brown. She took over from Kerry Prendergast, who held the position from 1995 to 2010. Fran Wilde started the trend in Wellington: She was mayor from 1992 to 1995.

Other female mayors around the country include Lianne Dalziel in Christchurch, Annette Main in Wanganui, and Julie Hardaker in Hamilton.

Women in Business

Ann Sherry—the first female CEO of a bank in New Zealand—ended her reign at Westpac Banking in 2007. Banking is still a pretty good place for women, with ASB Bank choosing Barbara Chapman as CEO. Theresa Gautting spent seven years at the head of Telecom (now called Spark), New Zealand’s major telecommunications provider. However, in the private sector women are still underrepresented on boards of directors, making up just 12 percent in private companies in New Zealand. The public sector is doing better, with their boards sitting at 42 percent female.

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