Nanaia Mahuta's appointment as Foreign Minister holds the potential for New Zealand to re-double its efforts championing the Women, Peace and Security agenda in the Pacific region and globally.
The United Nations Security Council adopted the foundation of the agenda through Resolution 1325 20 years ago last month — marking an important moment to reflect on progress to date.
The Security Council adopted the agenda as recognition that women are more affected by conflict, experience conflict differently, are more likely to be victims of security threats, and victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
The agenda is built on the principles of prevention, participation, protection, and peacebuilding, recovery and relief. It promotes women's participation in all aspects of peace and security with an understanding that gender equality lowers the risk of violent conflict and increases regional stability.
As the first Māori female Foreign Minister, Mahuta represents a realisation of the agenda and an authentic voice that can push it further through her new role.
She will be able to build on the foundation created by previous governments who acted as champions for the agenda.
The past government adopted the resolution into a National Action Plan in 2015, which involved a multi-agency approach with targets to achieve gender balancing and gender mainstreaming in our peace and security efforts over four years.
New Zealand's defence sector met targets under the agenda by increasing women's participation in the defence sector, spearheading several initiatives such as the Pacific Defence Gender Network to promote gender equality in regional defence forces, and ramped up efforts by creating gender advisers and new female engagement teams.
But this effort has stalled recently because of the narrow focus of the first national action plan on increasing general support for the agenda on a global stage and increasing the presence of police and military women.
The Women, Peace and Security agenda should be seen as a broad, complex agenda ripe with potential to tackle systemic issues that drive conflict and address global challenges such as gender inequality.
A new National Action Plan is set to be released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade soon. The minister should ensure this new plan reflects the broad vision of the agenda with Te Tiriti O Waitangi as its foundation.
Climate change is an area ripe for the application of a broad approach. Already a focus of New Zealand's foreign policy through the Pacific Reset, the agenda provides a roadmap to do things differently. Whether on the ground or at the negotiating table, women matter and their voices are needed to combat climate change.
More broadly, Mahuta's appointment should focus diplomats attention on representation, rights and resources centred around human security, equality and social justice — paving the way for a more feminist approach to New Zealand's foreign policy, with the agenda at its centre.
Mahuta has signalled an openness to such an approach, announcing that she wants to do the job in a different way.
"I think that we have the capacity now as a small nation to drive different types of solutions. Much of that is invested in our indigenous perspective and how we have been able to do things different domestically and take that out into the international forum," she said.
Colleagues have applauded her values-driven approach, describing her as deeply rooted in her whakapapa, with integrity and resilience.
The minister can use these skills to accelerate the adoption of this approach globally by ensuring women are at the decision-making table on foreign policy. This means full and inclusive participation in all levels of peace and security, seeing women as active agents of peace and not just victims as they have been in the past.
Her impact could be felt widely. A friend from northeast India contacted me recently to express admiration of the Prime Minister's announcement of Mahuta's new role. They were excited by the announcement as it signalled to them New Zealand's commitment to celebrating indigeneity and recognising the importance of representation.
Mahuta's voice can be a beacon of hope for indigenous communities not just in New Zealand but across the world and showcases New Zealand's ability to lead by example. Her leadership and commitment to driving indigenous perspectives when building strong and stable partnerships with our Pacific neighbours can pave the way for greater gender-responsive policies, and strengthen the gender architecture of our region.
Focusing on the women, peace and security agenda and accelerating its progress is the way to do this.
• Elzanne Bester is a graduate from the University of Auckland with a masters in conflict and terrorism studies and previously contracted for the Ministry of Defence.