Women in New Zealand


According to family historian Anne Folkema, Jane Udy was pregnant with her fifth child when she landed on the beach at Te Whanganui a Tara (Port Nicholson) in February 1840.

Pito-one pa (Maori Meeting House) lay to the west; Hikoikoi was the mouth of the river estuary to the east, with the Waiwhetu Owhiti (Maori) settlements on the opposite bank. In between, assorted temporary dwellings housed the Europeans who had arrived on the ships Aurora and Oriental.

Jane Udy gave birth to Thomas Clemence on 25 May under an awning, hastily erected after the family's second cottage built of flax and grasses burnt to the ground. Jane's husband Hart Udy was a builder, and was in great demand to build homes for the new settlers. It was said that there were only six builders in Wellington in 1840, so times were fruitful for Hart Udy and his family. His eldest son Hart Junior began working with him in 1844, when he was only nine. Jane Udy eventually became a mother of nine children, and ran the farm and home that they owned. Poultry and dairy products often contributed to household income, while other farm produce increased self-sufficiency. In this way the family built up sizeable savings.

However, the family's position in the Hutt Valley was not a straightforward one. Issues of land had not been settled, and in 1845 the Udys were stripped of their possessions by an unidentified Maori party.

In May 1846 a military outpost was attacked and six soldiers were killed. The Udys remained, hiding in the dense bush beside the river, or taking refuge in the Wesley Chapel.

Yes, the early settlers were a strong and determined breed. The women had to work long hard hours utilising what they could; they would have known 'luxuries' before they set sail for New Zealand, and upon arrival had to learn to live off the land and by their own wits.

When I came to New Zealand in 1972 things had settled down somewhat! I found the women very capable and able to turn their hand to just about anything.

I soon learned new skills, and find that I can now make a very good attempt at just about anything. I have learned how to bottle fruit, and can cook for any number of unexpected visitors, I can sew, having made several ball gowns, suits, dresses – you name it! I had always thought that Christmas mincemeat only came in jars off the shop shelf; upon coming to New Zealand I learned how to make my own mincemeat, and believe me I could put any bottling firm out of business if I so chose!


Universal suffrage was gained in New Zealand in 1893, and the Government designated 1993 as Suffrage Centennial Year. It established a $5 million Trust Fund to contribute towards projects which will:

  • enhance the status and advancement of women
  • commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage in New Zealand
  • publicise the positive contributions women have made to New Zealand's political, economic, social and cultural life.

The Trust's objectives are to stimulate activities which close the gaps between women and men, and Maori and non-Maori women, and to focus on projects which will help women achieve greater confidence, skills, opportunities and recognition.

In addition to community initiatives funded by the Trust and private sponsorship, all government departments will fund and organise activities and projects aimed at improving the situation of women. A unit within the Ministry of Women's Affairs is servicing the Trust and coordinating centennial activities.

Women today

Women make up nearly 51 % of the population and have adopted a saying, born out of television advertising, that 'girls can do anything'. Women can now be found in many job situations that only a few years ago would have been thought impossible.

  • Lynne runs a haulage business in Auckland: she concentrates on house moving, and plays an equal role with her employees. She comments that other women's attitudes have been the hardest to take.
  • Megan works as a 'melters tapper' at a steel mill in the South Island. Her working partner, a male, says that she is better than some of the men, and certainly more dependable in the dangerous job they do at the furnace face.
  • Helen has worked as an overhead crane driver at a steel mill, doing the dangerous job of moving huge pots of molten metal from one spot to another. She says that she had to prove herself, and now the men respect her. It's a fine line she says; you mustn't be seen to be doing the job too well!
  • Joan is a pilot with a commercial airline. She says that she has found most hostility from other women. One passenger was heard to say to her husband upon boarding the aircraft that she didn't fancy a woman driver!
  • Carol has worked at a South Auckland Steel mill for six years as a crane driver. Initially she was ignored, but now she is accepted as one of the best. Women comprise 22% of the lawyers in New Zealand. They are generally paid less than men and fewer of them are partners in law firms.
  • Racing is a big industry in New Zealand, with even the smallest of towns having race tracks. Only a few years ago it was a male dominated scene, but now half New Zealand jockeys are women!
  • Penny Jamieson was the first woman to be consecrated as an Anglican bishop; the ceremony was performed in Dunedin in 1990.
  • Dame Catherine Tizard was the first female Governor-General in New Zealand, a position she held from 1990 to 1996.

Women at work

Women's increasing participation in the labour force has been one of the strongest employment trends in the post-Second World War period. Women now comprise almost half of the labour force. Since 1991, the number of women in paid part-time work has increased 55% to reach 287,934. Meanwhile, 516,378 women were in full-time jobs. However, women received less income than men, with the median income for women in the year to March 2001 being NZ$14,500, compared with NZ$24,900 for men.

Young women are more likely than young men to be studying and more likely to have a post-school qualification. Nineteen per cent of women aged 20 to 29 have a degree or higher level qualification, compared with 14% of men. The most common field of study for women with a post-school qualification is health (22% compared with 5% of men), while engineering and related technology is the least common (2% compared with 33% for men).


Paid employment is the main source of income for women aged under 60 in New Zealand. According to figures published by Statistics New Zealand in 2001, the average ordinary time weekly earnings for females was $572.50 and male's weekly pay was $751.15.

The positions of women and men in the distribution of market income are starkly and diametrically opposed. Women are concentrated in the lower income groups, men in the higher. In spite of this, the relative position of women has improved slightly, with a 3% increase in the proportion of women in the top two income groups, and a 3% decline in the number of men in these groups.

The reasons for the disparity in earnings are many, including women's lower labour force participation, their fewer average hours of paid work, greater likelihood of intermittent participation in paid work, and younger average age in the workforce, lower levels of education and different occupational distribution. A recent study suggests that these factors can explain at least two-thirds of gender differences in pay, leaving onethird unexplained.

Women of all ages are more likely than men to rely on income from welfare benefits and pensions. Benefits made up over 20% of the incomes of women under the age of 35 in 1988-89, compared with 5% of men's income in the same age group. For women aged 35-59, 14-15% of their income came from benefits compared with 2% of male income in the same period. Over the age of 60, 72% of women's incomes is derived from social welfare payments, compared with 49% of men's incomes. Maori women are particularly dependent on welfare payments; benefits were the sole source of income for 47% of Maori women in 1981, compared to 25% of non-Maori women.

The Equal Pay Act 1972

The Equal Pay Act 1972 sought to remove discrimination in rates of remuneration based on the sex of employees. The Act has been interpreted as providing for equal pay rates for men and women doing the same work, although it does allow for special rates to be paid to employees on the basis of 'special qualities'. A difficulty lies in distinguishing whether payments are for special qualities or represent discrimination. The fact remains that women continue to earn significantly less than men. While the pay gap between male and female earnings closed by seven percentage points (72% to 79%) between the passage of the Equal Pay Act 1972, and its final implementation in 1977, it rose to only 81% in the next 15 years.

Despite the Equal Pay Act the distribution of market income is heavily weighted in favour of males as noted above. In all occupational groups male full-time employees receive higher median incomes than their female counterparts. This is so even in occupational groups which are predominantly female, such as clerical work.

Even though 74% of clerical workers are female, they earn on average only 73% of the average male clerical worker's pay. In the service and sales occupation groups, men's full-time median incomes were respectively 73% and 69% higher than women's.

In the higher paid occupational groups the gaps are not quite as large. Male full-time managers and administrators have a median income which is 48% higher than their female co-workers, while for male professional and technical workers it is 39% higher. This is probably a reflection of the higher education qualifications which are required for these occupations, which attract some measure of higher reward. However, even where qualifications are equal, women do not earn as much as men. For example, in 1986 only 17% of women with tertiary qualifications earned over NZ$20,000, compared to half all men with similar qualifications. Nearly half of all women with tertiary qualifications earned $10,000 or less compared with only 15% of men. A lack of qualifications has a significant impact on the incomes of Maori women, whose full-time earnings in 1986 were over $2,000 less than that of all women. Of this difference, 30% has been attributed to lack of qualifications.

Recent figures show average ordinary time weekly earnings for in the region of NZ$720.00. In comparison women earned approximately NZ$550.00.


Thankfully the New Zealand male isn't as 'crass' as his Australian counterpart, who so often likes to refer to all women as 'Sheilas'. Perhaps this is an inordinate fondness for women named 'Sheila', or even a huge memory lapse! The modern New Zealand male is more sensitive, and in many cases the male has taken over the traditional female role in bringing up the family whilst the woman pursues her career, or perhaps finishes her studies. There are, however, still pockets of males who continue to denigrate the female into the 'house help' role. Some New Zealand males still retain the 'settlers' mentality of hard living and hard drinking, rugby and racing.

The attitude of some men towards females, who compete for jobs in a male dominated workforce, especially in manual work areas, is that expressed by Arthur Daley of the TV series Minder, i.e. 'her indoors', or the well worn phrase 'the little woman at home'. We can only hope that such labelling of women will soon be a thing of the past. Here in New Zealand we are working towards that. Let's hope we are the first to achieve this, as we were with votes for women.

Women Should Not Imitate Men'

A recent article in a Christchurch newspaper by General Eva Burrows of the Salvation Army said: 'In seeking equality, women should not imitate men. They must remember the feminine factor, they have their own psyche, gifts and talents. We can be equal but different. This world is very aggressive, competitive and masculine. It needs the feminine touch. You despoil your characteristics if you try to lead in a masculine way. Women should not be limited to a life in the home, it was right for them to take their place in all the professions.'


According to the recent report Status of New Zealand Women, rural women continue to form only a small percentage (14%) of the total female population. This includes women living in rural settlements as well as those living on farms. (The term 'rural' is defined as those areas outside centres of population of 1,000 or more people.)

New Zealand women have traditionally been well organised. For example the Country Women's Institute cements social bonds; the Women's Division Federated Farmers (WDFF) acts as a lobby group within Federated Farmers (the major association of New Zealand farmers) and between farming women and the rest of society; and since 1980 Women in Agriculture (WG) has developed a support network for women moving into non-traditional roles and employment in agriculture.

What a rural survey showed

A survey carried out recently by rural women's organisations showed that:

  • Women who live on farms do 80% of the household duties.
  • 60% of farms have only one unpaid worker (usually paid in kind with housing, food etc) and 70% have no paid employees.
  • 80% of farm women work with the stock but most do not decide what will be done or how it will be done.
  • Only 30% of farm women regard themselves as farmers. Almost half regard themselves primarily as homemakers, but are expected to assist on the farm as required at short notice, usually for no pay.
  • 40% of farm women work in paid employment off the farm, and 30% believe that this is essential to supplement farm income. Women are more likely to work off the farm than men, but are constrained by a lack of job opportunities in rural areas. Some farm women have taken up paid work in towns and return to the farm only at weekends.

'For home and country'

The Federation of Country Women's Institutes of New Zealand has four aims: to unite women to promote the international motto – 'for home and for country'; to foster handicrafts, choral, drama, and other cultural activities; to encourage participation in community and national affairs; and to promote international understanding and goodwill through the organisation, Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW).

Women's Division Federation Farmers (WDFF) began life in 1925 with 16 members. A Mr L H McAlpine, an organiser for the Farmers Union, helped start this organisation. He had been shocked to learn of the conditions facing many rural women – primitive houses, bad roads, isolation, loneliness, illness and lack of help of any kind. The Emergency Housekeeping Service was established and still exists today, now known by another name, Home Care.

During the war years, as well as knitting socks and sending parcels to the troops, the WDFF raised 5,000 pounds sterling to buy a Spitfire aeroplane for the defence of Britain. This very large sum was raised in just one month from donations and the collection of scrap metal. In the 1950s an education bursary was established and since then there have been many grants and bursaries for rural people to take up education opportunities.

Today, the WDFF is concerned to establish a national rural health task force to monitor the impact of the health reforms in rural areas; promote rural equity issues on special education funding; and regenerate interests in neighbourhood support groups to fight increasing crime levels in country areas. They are also promoting the role of rural women in small business and tourism ventures to diversify their economic bases. Among other occasions in their celebrations of the women's suffrage centenary, WDFF organised Project Tree – a nationwide kowhai tree planting scheme.


A survey done by the Hillary Commission for Recreation and Sport showed that women do less vigorous physical activity than men. A total of 32% of males and 24% of females get the quality and quantity of exercise necessary for aerobic fitness, whereas over 40% of women and less than 40% of men do moderate physical activity. Most of the difference was due to doing housework, done by 93% of women but only 59% of men.

Until age 11, boys and girls were equally active, but male activity increased slightly after the age of 11 (by 2%) and female activity decreased (by 10%). There was a marked difference in girls' and boys' preferred physical activities: girls favoured dancing, horseriding and netball, while boys preferred cricket, rugby union, skateboarding and soccer.

It was found that women were less likely to run or jog than men (27% female, 41% male) but more likely to swim (29% female, 26% male). Walking was equally popular with both sexes. Women were more likely to do fitness exercises at home or go to a fitness class, and were more likely than men to exercise alone.

The three most popular exercises for women were swimming, cycling and aerobics, and for men swimming, snooker/pool and cycling. Young men under 18 play rugby and tennis, and young women play tennis. Older men and women play golf and lawn bowls.

Clubs for women

There are many types of clubs for women, ranging from the Church groups, such as 'Young Wives'. I joined such a group when I first arrived, and met a good range of people, and still retain contact with them, even though I am no longer a 'young wife'. There are also professional clubs, for females only, and Toastmasters which is usually a male and female organisation. The best way to find out about the range of clubs available to you is to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau nearest to you, and they will give you a complete run down.

Citizens Advice Bureau, 305 Queen Street, Auckland. Tel: 649 377 3314.

And don't forget the YWCA which is alive and well in all the main areas.

If you enjoy outdoor sports, there are always golf clubs to join, and outdoor bowls is another very popular sport. If you feel a little more energetic there are plenty of tennis clubs, squash clubs and swimming and also athletic clubs.


A visit to the hairdresser for a cut, shampoo and set costs in the region of$78-$98 for women and $58-$68 for men, depending upon the standard of hairdressing salon. To have highlights or a permanent colour with a set would cost up to $113, a tint would be $63, a semi permanent would start around $53 and a perm would cost around $98-$153.

Correct dress is advisable for a career woman, and a suit would cost in the region of $30G-$600. Casual wear is the order of the day for holidays and weekends, and after work occasions, and there are lots of shops to tempt you. They range from the low-priced casual wear shops, many of which are Australian, to the small boutiques, which are usually privately owned, and stock the more unusual lines of clothing, to the larger department stores like Kirkaldie & Stains in Wellington and Smith & Caughey in Auckland, where you can choose from a large range of clothes to suit all occasions. Farmers is a cheaper range department store with branches throughout New Zealand; there you can buy anything from a plant pot to a new coat.

If you live in the north of the North Island, you will find you can probably survive the 'winter' with a lightweight coat or raincoat. But if you live in the lower half of the North Island, or in the South Island, you will need a warm winter coat. This will typically cost somewhere between $200 and $500.

Shoes can cost between $100 and $200 for New Zealand made, to $150-$300 and even more for imported ones.


Jean Batten

Born in Rotorua in 1909, died in Jamaica in 1982 of an untreated dog bite. Jean Batten was one of the world's pioneer women aviators, establishing a string of world records in the mid-1930s. Her tally as a record-holding solo pilot includes four world records for any type of plane, and another five important records. During the war she worked as an ambulance driver in France and in a munitions factory in Dorset, having failed the eye test for the Air Transport Auxiliary of the RAF.

Katherine Mansfield

Born in Wellington in 1888 and died in Fontainbleau in 1923. Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand's best known and respected author. Her work has earned her an international reputation as one of the finest short story writers in English. Her work has been translated into 20 languages.

Malvina Major

Born in Hamilton in 1943. She was awarded an OBE in 1985 and a DBE in 1991. Malvina Major has one of the finest lyric soprano voices in the world, particularly suited to the music of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Mozart. She received wide acclaim for her international performance in Rossini's Elizabetta Regina d'Ingliterra at London's Camden Festival and in 1960 made her international debut at the Saltzburg Festival as Rosina in the Barber of Seville.

Kiri Te Kanawa

Born in Gisborne in 1944. She studied under Sister Mary Leo from 1959 to 1965. Kiri left New Zealand at the age of 21 to study at the London Opera Centre. Upon graduating, Kiri joined the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, making her debut in 1971 as Xenia in Boris Godonov by Moussorgsky. She is world renowned and especially remembered for singing at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

Kate Sheppard

Born in Liverpool in 1848, and died in 1934. Kate was a very able leader, and between 1888 and 1893 she organised five petitions to Parliament calling for women to be included as voters in general elections. Rejected one after the other, the petitions gained more signatures, until the fifth in 1893 carried the names of 31,872 women, about a third of the adult female population at that time. On 19 September 1893, as a result of determined campaigning, the Electoral Bill received the Governor's consent.

Yvette Williams

Born in Dunedin in 1929. Yvette jumped a recordbreaking 6.24 metres in the long jump, making her the first New Zealand woman to win a gold medal at an Olympiad. She won four gold British Empire Games medals and set a world record for the long jump between 1950 and 1954. She has won many other events, and was named New Zealand Sportsman of the Year (an award won by a woman only once before) in both 1950 and 1952.

Annelise Coberger

Born in Christchurch in 1971. Her Bavarian grandfather, Oscar Coberger, had been his region's ski champion. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1926 and opened the country's first ski shop at Arthur's Pass. With such an illustrious parentage it is no wonder that Annelise was so keen on skiing. At 18 years she won the prestigious German junior slalom championships. In 1991 with an international ranking of fifth in the slalom event, she climbed from a world ranking of 86th to be placed 24th. In the 1991-92 northern winter she won her first World Cup.

Amy Block

New Zealand's most notorious woman was undoubtedly Amy Block, the confidence trickster. She spent her life fabricating a series of personalities and complicated scenarios in order to gain money. She spent nearly half her career in prison from 1884 to 1909. When not in prison she obtained work as a cook or housekeeper defrauding her employers of money and possessions. She created a variety of personas, including Miss Crisp, Mrs Merry, Mrs Chanel and Charlotte Skevington. Her greatest coup was in 1908 when she posed as Percy Carol Redwood, passing herself off as a wealthy young man (the nephew of a Bishop!); while taking a holiday in Port Molyneaux, she courted a landlady's daughter. They married with 200 guests attending the wedding. Her fraudulent behaviour was her undoing, and she was put on trial for false pretences in 1909.


How many women in New Zealand own farms?

Fewer than five per cent of farms are owned by women with sole titles. Most of these come through inheritance as a widow or daughter, rather than by independent purchase.

What pre-school care is there for children?

Kindergartens and playcentres are very popular in all areas. Full-time kindergarten care for the working mother would cost around $100 per week.