While a lot of countries talk about diversity and how they want to improve the representation of minority groups in public lives, very few have actually done much when it comes to living up to that promise. New Zealand’s new government is taking a different approach.

Most people probably associate New Zealand with its breathtaking landscapes, its unique wildlife or the Lord of the Rings movies. But a slightly lesser known fact about the small country in the South is that it is actually one of the most progressive places in the world. So it comes as no surprise that New Zealand’s recently reelected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern takes the topic of diversity seriously. Her new cabinet of 20 ministers features five Maori, three Pasifika and three members of the LGBTIQ community with Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson being the first openly gay person in his office. Nanaia Mahuta will be the first woman and the first Maori to serve as foreign minister.

Ardern emphasized that her selection was based on “merit, talent and diversity” and that she did not need to make compromises to fit a certain idea of representation. For her, the cabinet simply reflects the diversity of New Zealand and “that’s actually as it should be”. Nonetheless, her government serves as a role model for people who did not see themselves represented on the highest political level before. Her deputy Robertson mentioned that he is still getting a lot of messages from “young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who look towards us to provide that kind of role-modelling”.

A pioneer of progressive policies
New Zealand actually has, maybe sometimes unnoticed by the rest of the world, been a pioneer of progressive policies in the past. All the way back in 1893, it was the first country to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Between 1890 and 1920, New Zealand’s willingness to adopt progressive policies resulted in the country being considered a “social laboratory” by foreign observers. Professor Paul Moon, a historian at the Auckland University of Technology, said that the driving forces behind that were the notions of equality and fairness and that they continued to shape the nation’s policies until the 1970s and 80s. More recently, in 2005 New Zealand was the first country in which all of its top positions of political power were being held simultaneously by women.In 2013 it was the 13th country to formally legalize same-sex marriage.

© World Economic Forum /
Boris Baldinger CC-BY 2.0

A place for better lives?
Ever since becoming Prime Minister in 2017, Jacinda Ardern has been working to transform the country into a place where “success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people”. In 2019, she made headlines worldwide when she decided to appear in public wearing a hijab, after the deadly terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch. She is often praised for leading with compassion and charisma while not losing sight of her goals.

Despite her successes and continued popularity there are many issues that remain to be solved. Maori are still significantly more likely to suffer from health problems or judicial discrimination. The Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding document from 1840, has been in the center of a heated debate about compensation for the land grabbing many European settlers took part in after arriving.

Still, with its new cabinet, New Zealand has achieved a great milestone in the struggle for representation and diversity on the highest level of governments and sets an example for the rest of the world. We will have to see whether other countries may follow?

Written by: Lennart Glitzenhirn

Sources and further readings:

CC-BY 2.0 licencse: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/