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Voice of America: Women Lawmakers in New Zealand Become Majority, Historic Gender Milestone

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In New Zealand’s parliament in Wellington, Soraya Peke-Mason has been celebrated as a trailblazer.

The Māori politician was sworn in Tuesday as the newest member of the governing Labour party.

Now, for the first time, women outnumber men in New Zealand’s parliament. The legislature body now includes 60 women and 59 men.

Peke-Mason told Radio New Zealand Tuesday that female representation in parliament has been building momentum for some time.

“It is a special day for me, but it is also a historic occasion for Aotearoa New Zealand,” she said. “… it was only a matter of time I think that this would come to the fore, given the inclusiveness of our country now.”

However, National party lawmaker Judith Collins told local media Tuesday that gender advances in politics did not mean that all women in New Zealand would be treated fairly and insisted that there was more work to do.

First to let women vote

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to allow women to vote in parliamentary elections. It would be another 25 years before Canada and Britain did the same.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday’s gender milestone in New Zealand politics was “significant and heartening.”

Peke-Mason is also the first new lawmaker to have pledged allegiance to the new king, Charles III. The British monarch is New Zealand’s head of state.

The number of women in New Zealand’s Parliament remained very low until the 1990s.

Female participation grew in 1996 when a new voting system — mixed member proportional representation — was introduced.

New Zealand is a South Pacific nation with a population of about 5 million people.

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