Many people remember Marilyn Waring as the feisty young National Member of Parliament who got under Prime Minister Rob Muldoon's skin and provoked the 1984 Snap Election.

When Labour's David Lange and Rogernomics swept into power that year, Waring turned her back on Parliament and headed into academia, earning a Doctor of Philosophy in Political Economy from Waikato University.

While Rogernomics was changing the landscape of business and trade in New Zealand, Waring created her own brand — feminist economics. She argued strongly that gender equality, sustainable development and women's human rights must be valued, cared for and included in economic modelling and performance — and soon became internationally known.

Sir Keith Holyoake with Miss Marilyn Waring, outside Parliament Buildings.
Sir Keith Holyoake with Miss Marilyn Waring, outside Parliament Buildings.

After leaving Parliament — she was MP for Raglan and then Waipa for nine years — Waring became involved with the Association for Women's Rights in Development and travelled to the Pacific Islands and Asia, encouraging local women to become more politically active and to have their voices heard.


Waring wanted women, all over, to be more economically empowered — and her crusade continues to this day.

She is an acclaimed author, development consultant and United Nations expert — and supervises 30 PhD and Master's students at the Auckland University of Technology's North Campus in Northcote as Professor of Public Policy.

Waring has held Fellowships at Harvard and Rutgers universities in the United States, Queen's University in Canada and at the Hawke Institute in Australia, and was a Visiting Professor at Southwest Jiaotong University in China.

She was a member of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Board from 2005-09. She worked as a consultant, mainly in Asia and the Pacific, for the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, and the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada.

Visionary Leadership

Waring's work, tenacity and insights were recognised at the Deloitte Top 200 awards dinner last night when she was celebrated as the 2018 recipient of the Sheffield award for Visionary Leader.

Top 200 judge Dame Alison Paterson says the award not only recognises a person important in New Zealand's political history but also someone who has shown original, visionary thinking and application that has been inadequately recognised in New Zealand.

"Marilyn is not just a university academic, she is a leader in her field of governance and public policy, political economy, gender analysis and human rights."

Dame Alison says Waring's academic research has been influential in establishing the field of feminist economics.


"One of her most famous works, If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics, argued for the economic importance of women's unpaid work and the environment, revealing the serious policy consequences caused by ignoring these when calculating national economic measures such as gross domestic product (GDP).

"The work persuaded the United Nations to redefine GDP, inspired new accounting methods in dozens of countries, and became the founding document of the discipline of feminist economics," says Dame Alison.

"More recently, Marilyn's work has focused on the inequalities of globalisation and the importance of acknowledging women's work as an international human rights issue. She has undertaken a range of projects for the United Nations and a number of high-level international agencies."

Dame Alison says Waring is a pioneer visionary and acknowledgement of her now, decades after her seminal work, is fitting, as the Labour-led Government recasts the form of next year's budget to a Wellbeing Budget. It is also suitable recognition as New Zealand celebrates 125 years since women gained the right to vote.

Political career

Waring, then 23, became the country's youngest MP in modern times when she was elected to represent Raglan in 1975, succeeding Douglas Carter.

She had earlier joined the National Party while studying political science and international politics at Victoria University and was motivated, even incensed, at a statement by the then Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk that he wouldn't support the homosexual law reform bill.

As her parliamentary leader Rob Muldoon soon found out, Waring stayed strong and resolute in her well-articulated views on feminism and environmental issues. She would not be intimidated by Cabinet Ministers or senior officials. One of her first moves was to have marital rape criminalised.

After the 1978 election — she was then the MP for Raglan — Waring was the only woman representing National in Parliament.

She "fell off her chair" when Muldoon, without prior consultation, made her chairperson of the influential Public Expenditure Committee — a position she held through to 1984.

Waring had the intellectual capacity and drive to cope with complex investigation and analysis — qualities that showed up in her later research, writings and presentations.
The New Zealand Institue of Economics Research, which recognised her with its annual award in 2014, said she chaired the committee at a time when New Zealand's National Income and Expenditure Accounts were being reformed, using standards set by the UN System of National Accounts. "She took a strong interest in these standards, particularly in the way in which their production boundary excluded, and still excludes, work performed within a household, mostly by women, for its own consumption."

As an MP, Waring was the New Zealand Observer at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and chaired the New Zealand delegation to the 1978 OECD conference on the Role of Women in the Economy.

June 14, 1984 is recorded as one of the most memorable days in New Zealand political history.

Waring informed Muldoon that she would cross the floor and vote for the Labour Opposition's nuclear-free New Zealand legislation. National held a one-seat majority in government.

Later that evening Muldoon called a snap election, saying Waring's feminist anti-nuclear stance threatened his ability to govern. Ill-judged or not — since Waring was still supporting the Muldoon Government on confidence and supply — it was a catastrophic decision for National in its third term of governing.

David Lange and his team romped in with 56 seats to National's 37 to form the fourth Labour Government. Waring didn't seek re-election in 1984. An autobiography based on her tumultuous parliamentary years will be published in the New Year.

Waring told the Listener that she was totally shattered at the time of the July 1984 election. "I think there were a large number of people in the National Party caucus struggling from 1982 onwards with principle and conscience. It was just a bloody nightmare. I'm not the only one who would have said they were spent at the end of that period."

New Directions

Waring, who grew up in Taupiri, Waikato, refreshed herself by turning to lecturing, research and writing. She soon attracted attention again — this time in the form of her book If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics, published in 1988, reprinted as a second edition in 1999, translated into several languages, and still cited by researchers, policymakers and economists throughout the world. She wrote the book while a visiting fellow at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

If Women Counted was a ground-breaking, systematic critique of the system of national accounts that measures economic growth, and the ways in which women's unpaid (care) work and the value of Nature (environment) were excluded from what counts as productive in the economy.

Waring argued in the book that the system for measuring GDP was designed by men to keep women "in their place." Women contributed the bulk of care around the world and unpaid care should be included in GDP because "the production" of well-cared-for children was just as important as that of cars or crops.

Fellow feminist economist and Professor of Economics at Boston's Massachusetts University, Julie A. Nelson said: "Marilyn Waring's work woke people up. She showed exactly how the unpaid work traditionally done by women has been made invisible within national accounting systems, and the damage this causes. Her book encouraged and influenced a wide range of work on ways of valuing, preserving, and rewarding the work of care that sustains our lives.

"By pointing to a similar neglect of the natural environment, she issued a wake-up call to issues of ecological sustainability that have only grown more pressing over time. In recent decades, the field of feminist economics has broadened and widened to encompass these topics and more."

In another book Three Masquerades, published in 1996, Waring explored the interconnections between equality, work, and human rights. "Until the whole is exposed to question," Waring said, "nothing alters in the power dynamics of who chooses, who judges, who defines, who rules, who imposes ... and lies masquerade as truths."

In 2012 she was named by Wired Magazine as one of 50 people who would change the world. Wired said Waring was an extremely clear thinker about the disastrous consequences of using measures such as GDP as a surrogate for "progress" or "wellbeing" in a country.

"We must realise that we can't tackle the problems in health care, environmental issues, food security, democracy and women's rights in isolation. They must be seen as a set of interrelated issues and anyone who wants to make a difference in the human condition must look at all of these factors," Wired said.


Colleague and friend Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, Foundation Professor Pacific Studies at AUT's Institute of Public Policy, met Waring in Samoa in the 1990s when she promoted women's rights and gender equality as part of the AWID movement.

"Marilyn raised the awareness of women in politics in the Pacific," says Fairbairn-Dunlop. "Her message was a way for us to move Pacific women forward in a culturally hierarchical society. Marilyn was a rabble-rouser on women's equality and the Pacific women were ready for the message. We just needed an outsider to come in and say what we can do, and we went for it."

Waring sent her students to Samoa to complete gender-related research and Fairbairn-Dunlop, who then worked at the University of South Pacific's School of Agriculture and Food Technology, supported them in their field work.

Fairbairn-Dunlop says Waring was the voice of those who didn't feature in [economic] policy-making or programme processes. She argued that the data collected for policy-making was not representative of everyone and she cared for the marginalised and vulnerable whose views were seldom heard.

"Marilyn challenged [traditional] economic growth models and I go back to her UN Human Development report that argued economic and social growth — including education and health — go hand in hand.

"She has no tolerance for things that are not right.

"She left the FAO because she felt their budgeting was unethical and wasteful — she saw them paying big bucks for programmes that were not well-thought through and not tracked."

Fairbairn-Dunlop says Waring has an incisive mind and has a meticulous understanding of policy-making and how things can be done and should be done. She doesn't miss anything. "Marilyn reads and keeps up to date with all the little legal things happening and she challenges and critiques them.

"There are very few like her continually battling for gender equality. Marilyn is a ray of hope — and she's definitely a visionary. I value her friendship as a colleague and her professionalism in supporting Pacific women. If she is on your side, then you don't need anyone else to support you. Marilyn is brutally honest in everything she does," says Fairbairn-Dunlop.

She says Waring hasn't been as vocal as she used to be but that will change when her parliamentary autobiography comes out. "She's busy supervising 30 students, that's a heavy load, and most of them are interrogating global and national policies — doing the research and critiquing them.

"Marilyn has boxes and boxes of papers — she keeps everything — and her [new] book will be meticulously researched and cross-referenced.

"This is going to be quite a revelation on political manoeuvring and strategising, and it will describe how she was actually treated as a woman — she was a minority in a largely male environment," says Fairbairn-Dunlop.

Marilyn Waring.
Marilyn Waring.


• MP for Raglan 1975-78, MP for Waipa 1978-84. Youngest MP at the time and sole female government MP from 1978-81

• Chair of the parliamentary Public Expenditure Committee 1978-84, Senior Government Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and on the Disarmament and Arms Control Committee

• Board Member of the New Zealand Reserve Bank 2005-09

• Technical expert on Gender and Poverty for UN Development programme

• Member of CIW Founding Board on Canadian Index of Wellbeing (one of two international board members)

• Treasurer and Board Member of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)

• In 1988 published If Women Counted, which sold internationally; second edition was printed in 1999

• Wrote Three Masquerades: Essays on Equality, Work and Hu(man) Rights — includes references to her years in Parliament which she describes as "an experience of counterfeit equality"

• National Film Board of Canada produced video documentary on her work called Who's Counting: Sex, lies and Global Economics in 1995

• Published In the lifetime of a Goat: Writings 1984-2000, on farming angora goats and drystock, international questions, NZ politics, feminist issues and women of influence

• In 2007 one of 16 prominent intellectuals invited to contribute to French publication on human rights

• Included on the 2012 Wired Magazine Smart List of "50 people who will change the world"

• Chosen by BBC World Service as one of 40 visionaries for its hour-long millennium interviews, and one of 1000 women nominated for Nobel Peace prize in 2005

• An anthology named Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics published in 2014 and edited by Margunn Bjornholt and Alisa McKay

• Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008 for services to women and economics, and Doctor of Letters from Glasgow Caledonian University for "outstanding international contribution towards the understanding of feminism and human rights"

• In 2014 won NZIER Economist of the Year, recognising her work in applied economics, economic dissemination and economic policymaking affecting New Zealand

• Awarded Suffrage Centenary, Commemorative and Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee medals, and Hiroshima Day: Special award of NZ Foundation for Peace for her peace work

• Professor at AUT's Institute of Public Policy since 2006

• BA (Hons) in political science and international politics from Victoria University, and Doctor of Philosophy in political economy from Waikato University with thesis on the United Nations System of National Accounts.