The Ministry of Justice has celebrated this week’s 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage and the extraordinary contribution women have made to justice in New Zealand.
On 19 September 1893, the Electoral Act was passed into law.
Women in justice
The Ministry of Justice says women make up 68% of its people and 51% of its senior managers.
They follow in the footsteps of the justice sector’s many female leaders and pioneers since the late 1800s, such as:
- Dame Augusta Wallace, who in 1976 was the first woman appointed a District Court judge, a position she held for 18 years.
- Annis Somerville, who set up her own all-women barristers and solicitors practice and when on to become the first Māori Family Court judge in 2001.
- Dame Silvia Cartwright, who became the first female Chief District Court Judge in 1989; was the first woman appointed to the High Court in 1993; and became New Zealand’s second female Governor-General in 2001.
- Judith Potter, the first woman elected President of the NZ Law society in 1991.
- Dame Lowell Goddard, who in 1988 was one of the first two women appointed Queen's Counsel, and who is thought to be the first person of Māori ancestry appointed to the High Court, where she served as a judge from 1995 to 2015.
- Dame Sian Elias, the first female Chief Justice of New Zealand (the most senior member of the country's judiciary), a role she’s held since 1999.
Dame Silvia and Mai Chen feature in Equality video
Meanwhile, Dame Silvia is among 14 women appearing in a Human Rights Commission video – Still Striving for Equality.
Still Striving for Equality reflects on the gains that women have made in New Zealand since 1893. At the same time, it focuses on the serious human rights issues still facing women today – New Zealand’s unprecedented family violence statistics, the gender pay gap and a lack of women in business leadership.
As Dame Silvia, former Governor General and High Court Judge says in the video: “I can’t believe we are still talking about discrimination against women.”
The four-minute video makes the point that the suffragists of 1893 would be “horrified”, to quote Justice Dame Susan Glazebrook, by the human rights issues faced by women and their families that still exist in New Zealand.
The video features contributions from Mai Chen – Managing Partner Chen Palmer Partners, Adjunct Professor University of Auckland, Chair NZ Asian Leaders & Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy & Business, Director BNZ;
Justice (Dame) Susan Glazebrook – Judge of the Supreme Court;
Theresa Gattung– Leading New Zealand businesswoman, author and philanthropist;
Helen Clark –New Zealand Prime Minister (1999-2008) and Administrator of the United Nations Development programme (2009- 2017);
Dr Jackie Blue – Equal Employment Opportunities and Women’s Rights Commissioner, Former MP (2005-2013) and GP; and
Paula Tesoriero– Disability Rights and Acting Chief Commissioner, Paralympic Gold Medallist.