In 1893, New Zealand emerged as a model for other countries when it became the first nation to introduce women’s suffrage. It would take another three decades before women were finally allowed to run for office too.
On Wednesday, in celebration of the achievement, 39 of the country’s 46 current female members of Parliament re-created a photo that dates back to 1905 and shows New Zealand’s all-male Parliament at the time. For its 2018 version, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern brought along her infant daughter.
In June, Ardern became a global role model for working mothers when she gave birth to her first child.
New Zealand’s female parliamentary membership is 38 percent, placing it above the 2015 global average of 22.1 percent. The nation with the highest proportion of female MPs was Rwanda, where 63.8 percent of lower house lawmakers were women in 2015.
The number of women holding positions in legislatures or executive government has increased in recent years, according to a study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union that was released in 2016. Data collected by the authors showed women’s membership in parliaments almost doubled from more than 11 percent in 1995 to about 22 percent in 2015. Most of the changes have occurred in Africa, where four countries made it into the global top 10.
Meanwhile, the United States ranked 96th in terms of female politicians represented at the national level, lagging behind Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, according to my colleagues Melissa Etehad and Jeremy C.F. Lin. The United States has also been outperformed by neighboring nations such as Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nominated a 50 percent female cabinet three years ago.
Although countries such as New Zealand have led the way, being a female politician can still have pitfalls, as Ardern encountered. This month, she faced harsh criticism for taking an extra plane ride to spend time with her daughter to avoid being away from her for a days-long Pacific islands summit. The extra trip cost taxpayers between $30,000 and $65,000.
“The other option was for me not attend at all, but, given the importance that we place on the relationships with the Pacific islands in the reset, that equally didn’t feel like an option,” Ardern said in justifying her decision.
Her critics have rejected accusations that their criticism of Ardern was sexist.
To New Zealand’s female MPs, Wednesday’s photo session was a chance to celebrate what they and their predecessors have achieved. But some didn’t want to distract from the shortcomings that persist.
“Still so much more to do,” MP Nikki Kaye wrote on Twitter.