Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Feminist Contributions to New Zealand Political Science

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Feminist Contributions to New Zealand Political Science

Article excerpt

Introduction

It is not uncommon in scholarship on women and politics in New Zealand to find claims that there has been significant progress in the name of women in the political arena (Vis-Sommer, 2002; Weatherall, 2003). New Zealand women were the first in the world to win the right to vote in 1893 (Grimshaw, 1987; Hutching, 2010) and even earlier, were making their presence felt in local government (Belich, 2001). Indeed, New Zealand was the first country in the British Empire to see a woman mayor elected (Mogford, 2012). Their early engagement with the state, through the establishment of a wide range of women's and community organisations (Else, 1993; Preddy, 2003), provided women and children with a range of benefits and services (Nolan, 2000; Scott, 2001; 2003). This activism continued throughout the twentieth century, in a range of forms: indigenous and imported (Coney, 1990; Daley & Nolan, 1994; Du Plessis & Higgins, 1997; Irwin, 1992; Simmonds, 2011); pragmatic and radical (Cahill & Dann, 1991; Dann, 1985; Devere & Scott, 2001; 2003; Grey, 2008; 2009; Scott, 2003). When a formal party system emerged in the early 1900s, women were sufficiently well-organised to ensure sustained grassroots presence within the major political parties (Baysting et al, 1993; Burness, 1997; Wilson, 1989; 1992).1 And, despite a first past the post electoral system, and recalcitrant party leaders, women's representation reached 21 per cent in the national parliament by 1993 - a comparatively unusual political feat (Catt, 1997; Curtin, 2012; Gilling & Grey, 2010; Hayward, 2014; McLeay, 1993; 2006; Tremblay, 2005). In the twenty-first century New Zealand women have achieved a number of top roles in politics, the bureaucracy, the law, and with international organisations (Curtin, 2008a; Curtin & Sawer 2011; Henderson, 2006; Simms, 2008; Vis-Sommer, 2002).

However, these successes in descriptive representation have not always been followed by symbolic or substantive successes (Grey, 2002; 2006). Research internationally and in New Zealand demonstrates women political leaders have continued to face a hostile media (Devere & Graham Davies, 2006; Fountaine, 2002; McGregor, 1996; McGregor & Comrie, 2002; McMillan, 2009; Ross & Comrie, 2012; Trimble & Treiberg, 2010). Paradoxically perhaps, feminists began to access the bureaucracy from within (Curtin & Sawer, 1996; Curtin & Teghtsoonian, 2010; O'Regan, 1991; Teghtsoonian, 2004) at the same time that the welfare state, public sector and labour market were being significantly restructured with tangible gender effects (Briar & Cheyne, 1998; Curtin & Devere, 2006; McClelland & St John, 2006; Nolan, 2010). Although recent Labour governments have ushered in a number of female-friendly policy reforms (Abel et al., 2010; Chappell & Curtin, 2013; Curtin, 2008b; Harrington, 2012), and appear to have been rewarded by women voters (Banducci & Karp, 2000; Curtin, 2014a; Else, 2009; Vowles, 1993), feminist scholars (and non-feminists) also critiqued the heavy emphasis given to women's labour market participation over women's caring responsibilities (Dommett, 2009; McClelland & St John, 2006; Stuart, 2003).

This cursory overview of milestones and setbacks reveals that feminist politics in New Zealand has played out in the public sphere for well over a century. And yet, 'mainstream' New Zealand political science has been slow to recognise the contributions of women as political actors and scholars, and even slower to engage with gender as an analytical category of import. This resistance is not unique to New Zealand (Waylen et al., 2013; Johnson, 2014; Lovenduski, 1998; Mackay, 2004; Sawer, 2004; Vickers, 1997; 2012). Rather, despite, or perhaps because of, the long-standing ambivalence of traditional political science to include women as political actors, feminism as a theoretical lens, and gender as an analytical construct, a more explicit 'feminist political science' literature began to emerge internationally in the 1980s and has grown significantly since then, evidenced by the volume and diversity of work published in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary journals, editions and book series. …

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