Creating Safer Pathways into Public Office for Women
City: Wellington, New Zealand
Reporting to: Chief of Staff to the Mayor and the Mayor of Wellington
Over the past five years, female candidates and politicians in New Zealand have consistently spoken out about the often violent and sexist harassment they receive online, which has only escalated over the last few years. While there is some tracking of these forms of online abuse and harassment,1 not a lot has been systematically compiled on the experiences of female candidates and politicians, nor any research conducted on the potentially chilling effect this treatment has on aspiring politicians—and as a result—their representation in public office. In the most recent 2023 election, representation in parliament dropped from 61 women to 54, and multiple reports of threats and abuse towards female candidates persisted.2 Wellington’s city leadership hypothesizes that toxic and violent behavior is creating a barrier for women entering public office and is causing others to leave.3, 4 For Mayor Whanau, Wellington’s first Wahine Māori mayor, addressing these forms of abuse is a top priority, as is creating pathways into politics for women, tangata whenua (indigenous people), and youth.5
Mayor Whanau believes that systematic change is needed to address this issue so that women wanting to enter public office (mayors and MPs, but also political journalists) can experience Wellington as a supportive and safe city and as an exemplar for other cities in New Zealand and around the world. The fellow will have an opportunity to help lay the groundwork for a first-of-its-kind initiative for the capital city and the political seat of New Zealand. They will help compile learnings and ideas from the experiences of candidates and politicians and from other domestic and international contexts. In addition, they will identify promising approaches from other contexts and how they might be applied in the Wellington context. They will also help identify and engage with potential partners for this undertaking.6
How big of an issue and how prevalent is online harassment towards female candidates and politicians? What data are available? What are the gaps?
What is the impact of this problem and how has this affected the decision making of political contenders?
What will be the potential impact of decreasing the number of women in public office?
What measures, law changes, and initiatives could create a better environment, one where women feel safer in public office? As this experience is not unique to New Zealand, which promising approaches have been effective in other contexts and countries?
Who might be recruited to become part of this coalition?
What You’ll Do
To address these questions, the fellow will engage with current and former politicians,7 domestic and international women’s networks, organizations tracking internet abuse,8 police, policy advisors within digital communications, etc.
Key Deliverables Include:
Phase One – Scoping, research, and stakeholder engagement
- Research, identify, and analyze data on the current behavior toward women in public
- Identify and interview stakeholders, including women candidates and politicians, to understand their experience and generate ideas for what might be helpful.
- Deliverable: A project plan.
Phase Two – Research policy levers, potential partnerships, and potential approaches
- Identify promising approaches and potential partners.
- Develop a roadmap and/or framework of draft approaches. This could include amendments to current legislation, a campaign, a support network system for women to opt into, etc.
- Deliverable: Socialize the plan with stakeholders for feedback. Update it based on input and feedback.
Phase Three – Presentation of recommendations
- Deliver a breakfast forum for selected leaders, including MPs and representatives from women’s networks, to discuss their experiences.
- One potential outcome could be to present a call to action for women to opt into a supportive network, which could be administered by the mayor’s office and grown over time.
What You’ll Bring
The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:
- Data analysis
- Qualitative interviewing and analysis
- Policy analysis
- Design Thinking
1 https://netsafe.org.nz/race-based-online-abuse/ processes reports of abuse shared by the public.
2 An independent review of parliamentary culture in 2019 also revealed a culture of bullying and harassment.
5 The mayor is a member of YEM – a Young Elected Members sub-committee of the National Council that handles coordinating networking and development opportunities for young, elected members, advises the National Council on matters such as young adult/rangatahi participation in local government, building stronger relationships and issues affecting young, elected members, and provides a view on any matters of policy and legislation.
6 Local organizations in the women’s leadership space, for example, include Global Women International, Zonta Women’s Network, and Aspire Women’s Network of Victoria University of Wellington.
7 The city’s mayor’s office has a Digital Advisor and a Policy Analyst that the fellow can work with. At a second level, the fellow will liaise with the key advisor of any current politician willing to be part of this study.
8 Netsafe NZ tracks online activity and reports of abuse. Programs specifically for young people exist, like ‘Keeping it real,’ but no programs are currently offered for women.