Marilyn Waring

Marylin Waring in 1975.

Marilyn Waring is an internationally-renowned feminist, economist and human rights activist.

Aged just 23 when she was elected to Parliament in 1975, she became the youngest MP in the House. She had worked for the National Party research unit and volunteered with the Women’s Electoral Lobby. Asked why she had gone into politics, she recalled:

No one reason. Partly academic interest, I was interested in the selection process and also I thought we’d done enough criticizing about women not being prepared to put forward their names as candidates for political positions. I couldn’t stand back and criticize them for not doing that if I didn’t do anything myself. [1]

Waring’s maiden speech set out some key priorities that continued throughout her nine years in Parliament.

I realise that I am the youngest member of this House and I would not presume to teach any members of this House anything about politics. But members should be well aware that occasions will arise when I feel that further representation should be given to the point of view of the youth and the women of this country who are grossly numerically under-represented in this House. From time to time, when I feel the pressing need to advance the interests of those two groups, I will do so. [2]

As the member for Raglan (later Waipa), Waring felt a strong duty to represent the people of her rural electorate. But as she said in her maiden speech, women and youth were under-represented in the corridors of power. She believed feminists should work within the system to make positive changes for women.

Waring was one of only four female MPs during her first term and half the average age of MPs. She sought to represent the views of women and youth on contentious issues such as abortion, rape and New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance.

Marilyn Waring outside office

Marilyn Waring declares her office a nuclear free zone, c.1984

Waring’s support for the Labour opposition’s anti-nuclear bill in 1984 demonstrated a commitment to her values and principles. After being blocked from speaking on the nuclear issue, Waring advised the National Party leadership she would cross the floor on the issue. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon responded by calling a snap election which Labour won by a landslide. 

Waring retired from politics in 1984, but continued advocating for women’s rights. In August 1984, seething after months of caucus discussion and select committee hearings on rape legislation, Waring penned a column for the Listener entitled ‘What the Law Calls It’. [3] After outlining the current laws concerning and social attitudes about rape in New Zealand, she concluded, ‘Men may not all be rapists at heart, but they must stop their subtle protecting – and perpetuating – if they want women to know this.’

In September 1984, Waring fielded questions from the general public on feminist issues as part of a TVNZ programme, On Line. In the following video Waring answers a question about women in positions of power and reflects on her experiences in Parliament.

After her time in politics, Waring became an academic, gaining a PhD in political economics. Her 1988 book Counting for nothing (sometimes entitled If women counted), analysed economics from a feminist perspective and highlighted the fact that Gross Domestic Product calculations generally exclude the value of women’s unpaid work. This book and her other work on this subject explored the implications of discounting the work of half the world’s population, and informed and changed United Nations policies in this area.
Marilyn Waring discusses Counting for nothing

Further Reading

Sandra Coney and Val Cole, ‘Feminism is bigger than any political party consideration’, Broadsheet, November 1976, pp 14–17

Barry Gustafson, His way: a biography of Robert Muldoon, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2000

Marilyn Waring, In the lifetime of a goat: writing 1984–2000, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2001

Encounter - Take a Girl like You (NZ On Screen)

Notes

[1] ‘Feminism is bigger than any political party consideration’, Broadsheet, November 1976, p. 14.

[2] George Andrews (director), ‘Take A Girl Like You’, Encounter, 1976, https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/encounter-take-a-girl-like-you (starts at about 26.55)

[3] Marilyn Waring, In the lifetime of a goat: writing 1984–2000, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2001, pp. 43–5.

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