Dame Jenny Shipley 'thrilled' Parliament now more women than men

  • 09/11/2022

Former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley is thrilled New Zealand's Parliament now has more women than men.

She said she remained in Parliament despite former Prime Minister Sir Rob Muldoon telling her to "go home… and cook scones". 

Labour MP Soraya Peke-Mason entered Parliament in October, replacing outgoing MP and former Speaker Trevor Mallard. Mallard's departure and the resignation of Dr Gaurav Sharma means there are now 60 female MPs and 59 male MPs.

A special event is being held at Parliament to celebrate - with past and current female MPs invited.

That includes Dame Jenny, the former National Party leader who led New Zealand between 1997 and 1999 and was the country's first female Prime Minister. 

"I'm thrilled that New Zealand has got to this point," she told AM. "Interestingly, we're one of the few countries in the world where we've done that without having quotas or rules to have got here."

"We are one of the most diverse Parliaments in the world, and particularly without the quota system. So it's a huge celebration."

Dame Jenny became National leader - and therefore Prime Minister - in 1997 after convincing fellow National MPs to back her in replacing Jim Bolger. There was never a leadership competition as Bolger stepped down.

While the majority of the caucus at the time were men, Dame Jenny said she never recalled at the time any conversation about her gender.

"But certainly when I was a young Member of Parliament, I remember Sir Robert Muldoon telling me I should go home to the farm and and cook scones. But he was an earlier generation. 

"By the time we got to the late '90s. I think all political parties realised that unless they have men and women around the table in the arena making decisions on behalf of New Zealand, they weren't representing our constituency.

"So there has been change and improvement steadily during the '90s. I was number 28 and here we are celebrating, I think number 176 in terms of the women who have been in the New Zealand Parliament. So again, it's a big milestone."

Dame Jenny was asked how she responded to Sir Rob.

"I'm still here. Look, I understood that generation, but I was very clear that I believed women should be in this House and every other house if that was their choice. At that time, it was very important. 

"My message to women in the future is, look, you can come in and not just represent women. You can take part in every aspect of decision-making. You can be Prime Minister. You can be Minister of Finance. You can be any of the key roles in this Parliament alongside your male colleagues. And that's New Zealand at its best."