When Jenene Crossan-Nicholls, the 20-something editor of NZ Girl,
a locally based online magazine, considers the kinds of celebrities
her audience might want to read about these days, she hasn't much to
say about snake-hipped fashion models or bubblegum singers. It's the
nation's leading bureaucrats and pols she talks about.
"Right now," she says, "I think you'd find that the civil service
and politics hold quite a bit of interest for your typical girl
And quite likely their mothers, too. The appointment two weeks
ago of Silvia Cartwright as the country's next head of state - a
largely ceremonial post she will officially assume next March or
April - means that all of the top jobs within this small South
Pacific nation's constitutional framework are now held by women.
Among all the countries represented in New York this week for the
United Nations Millennium Summit of world leaders, only New Zealand
boasts such a comprehensive female lock on the levers of political
As governor-general, Ms. Cartwright will represent the British
queen, the nominal leader of this onetime British colony. Prime
Minister Helen Clark heads the government's executive branch, while
Chief Justice Sian Elias is the person in charge of the judiciary.
Other women currently in top jobs include former prime minister
and National Party leader Jenny Shipley, attorney-general Margaret
Wilson, and the new mayor of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city,
The "new girl's network," as some have called it, also reaches
into commerce - its most notable member being Theresa Gattung, chief
executive at Telecom, the country's biggest corporation.
"Where all of those women are is a tribute to their strengths,"
says Donna Awatere-Huata, one of the 32 female members of Parliament
currently serving in the 120-member body. "They're all powerful
women who have reached the pinnacle of their profession through
their own individual application and talents."
Still, Ms. Awatere-Huata is quick to point out, it's not as if a
liberal local culture didn't play a significant part in their upward
trend. This, she suggests, and the country's isolation have also
made it easier for the Kiwis to accept the kinds of social changes
that older countries with more entrenched traditions might find more
New Zealand was the first nation in the world to give women the
vote, in 1893, 15 years after it became the first country in the old
British empire to award a bachelor's degree to a female university
student. Alison Laurie, a lecturer in women's studies at the
Victoria University of Wellington, describes these events as
precursors to a pretty "remarkable string of firsts for women. …