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Published 20 February 2020

Double jeopardy or double advantage? Ethnic women in New Zealand politics

Associate Professor Rachel Simon-Kumar

Where are all the ethnic women leaders in the stories we tell ourselves about Aotearoa New Zealand, past and present?

Press release from Associate Professor Rachel Simon-Kumar, University of Auckland, 13 February 2020

“Ethnic minority women New Zealanders (defined as non-Pakeha, non-Māori, non-Pacific) have been involved in politics since the time of Kate Sheppard and they remain active at all levels today,” says University of Auckland Associate Professor Rachel Simon-Kumar.

“But at a time when ethnic minority women are emerging as the new face of radical politics across several Anglo-European democracies, and despite their historical and contemporary relevance to New Zealand politics, they are largely invisible in both this country’s academic research and the public imagination.”

Dr Simon-Kumar, along with Professor Priya Kurian from the University of Waikato, have received more than $800,000 from the Marsden Fund/Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden to investigate this uncharted involvement of ethnic women in New Zealand politics.

The researchers – both ethnic women academics – are compiling in-depth biographies of significant ethnic women politicians across the generations, drawing on a range of sources from campaign manifestos, council meetings, and select committee meetings to interviews, parliamentary transcripts and media coverage.

Their study, titled Double jeopardy or double advantage? Ethnic women in New Zealand politics, will explore the experiences of ethnic women politicians, asking questions such as: What are the barriers to ethnic women’s participation in politics? How do they navigate multiple interests in politics – of gender, of ethnicity, and of their party affiliations? How are they represented as politicians in the media?

Dr Simon-Kumar says ethnic women are integral actors in mainstream governance, as serving and past MPs, local councillors, mayors, successful and failed political candidates, and public servants. Examples include current MPs Melissa Lee (National), Golriz Ghahraman (Greens) and Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Labour).

“We want this study to help throw light on issues of gender, leadership and minority politics in Aotearoa New Zealand, and by looking at ethnic minority and gender politics from ‘the inside’ extend international scholarship on intersectional feminist theory,” she says.

The research is the first of its kind in Aotearoa New Zealand and is a project both ‘about and by’ ethnic women.