New Zealand women led the world in 1893, when women won the right to vote, and now they join a small group of parliaments across the globe where men are the minority.
“It’s about time,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at an event to mark the occasion at Parliament today.
Ardern remarked how rapidly - in recent years - the change had come. She was elected in 2008 as the 99th female MP - now there have been 177.
But while there was balance today, in history women make up just 12 per cent of the country’s 1505 politicians.
Gender balance was achieved after Soraya Peke-Mason was sworn in as Labour list MP, replacing outgoing Speaker Trevor Mallard, but the balance tipped after former Labour MP Gaurav Sharma resigned.
There are currently 60 women MPs and 59 men.
Ardern also paid tribute to the women before her, including New Zealand’s first female prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley and second, Helen Clark.
“Being three made it easier.”
Ardern said it was important not to stop here and continue to “speak on rights that are universal” to “protect women and girls everywhere”.
Shipley said New Zealand’s milestone was “very significant”, particularly as it was done without a quota.
She said most of those in the top five had quotas, and of countries with greater than 40 per cent women in parliament 66 per cent had quotas.
Shipley said the representation came with “special responsibility”.
She said New Zealand should be proud to have one of the “most diverse parliaments in the world”.
She called on women to speak up not just domestically in “echo chambers” but on a world stage, remarking on a lack of female representation at the climate change conference COP27 in Egypt.
“We need to think about the women’s lens and how it can be injected into that in a fresh way.”
She also called, in particular, to continue advocating for women’s reproductive rights on a world stage.
Clark reflected on how different it was when elected in 1981, even the lack of women’s bathrooms: “Parliament was not ready for us.”
She recalled Sir Robert Muldoon’s valedictory speech, in which he the said biggest change was “all these women”.
Clark said a lot had changed since then but there were still “plenty of issues to get our teeth into”.”
Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia in May 1893 became the first woman in the country to speak in a parliament, doing so in Te Kotahitanga Parliament (Māori Parliament).
Shortly after, Kate Shepherd led petitions that ultimately saw women win the right to vote in the hard-fought suffrage battle in 1893.
It took another 26 years before they could stand for Parliament and a further 14 years before Canterbury woman Elizabeth McCombs was sworn in as the country’s first female MP.
It took a decade before Parliament had its own childcare centre and it is now normal to see women breastfeeding in the debating chamber.
Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime was the first to do so in 2017 and rules have also changed to allow parents to take compassionate leave to get their children home earlier on sitting days.
Aotearoa celebrated the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2018; the same year Jacinda Ardern became this country’s first female Prime Minister to have a baby in office.
Alongside growing representation, there have also been increasing reports of threats of violence against female MPs.
Ardern herself has been subject to multiple threats, and some MPs have had to adopt security measures.
New Zealand is one of just six nations to have 50 per cent or more female representation.
Labour has the most, with 38 of its 65 MPs women - close to 60 per cent.
The Green Party has the highest proportion, with seven women among its 10 MPs.
Act has four women MPs in its batch of 10 while half of Te Pāti Māori’s two MPs are wāhine.
National meanwhile has just a third - 11 - of its 33 MPs female.