The Impact of Women's Political Leadership on Democracy and Development

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Women’s minimal leadership role in national and local political spheres remains a serious concern worldwide. The Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action for Gender Equality 2005–2015 calls on governments to introduce measures to promote at least 30 per cent representation of women in parliament, government and business.

The Impact of Women’s Political Leadership on Democracy and Development describes the barriers to women’s political participation and explains why the contribution of women is so crucial to democracy. It identifies established strategies – electoral reform (New Zealand), party voluntary quotas (South Africa), and legislative quotas (Bangladesh and India) – that have helped these Commonwealth countries to meet the global target of 30 per cent and thus to effectively advance the participation of women in decision-making at all levels.



Impact of Women's Political Leadership on Democracy and Development in New Zealand

On 19 September 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections, following the landmark Electoral Act. As a result, New Zealand’s world leadership in women’s suffrage became a central part and image of a ‘social laboratory’ for other democracies. This was achieved after many years of effort by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard, through a series of massive petitions calling on parliament to grant the vote to women. The 1990s was an outstanding period for women’s appointment to new positions, particularly with the change of the electoral system to Mixed Member Proportionality (MMP), which opened up the political space for women. In modern New Zealand, the idea that women could not or should not vote is completely foreign to New Zealanders. In 2012, 32 per cent of Members of Parliament were female, compared with 13 per cent in 1984. In the early twenty-first century women have held each of the country’s key constitutional positions: prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general and chief justice. The chapter will therefore interrogate how the MMP system has impacted women’s participation in politics. It will further examine the contribution, status and role of women after a period of extensive social and political change in New Zealand, and how this has translated into women’s voting and representation, women’s role in conflict and co-operation, participation and protest, equal access to power, institutional culture and feminism.


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