New Zealand’s parliament has dropped its requirement that male members wear neckties, after a Māori leader was ejected earlier this week for refusing to wear one in the chamber.
Rawiri Waititi, 40, argued that forcing him to a Western dress code was a breach of his rights and an attempt to suppress indigenous culture. Instead, on Tuesday he arrived wearing a taonga, a Māori greenstone pendant.
Speaker Trevor Mallard twice prevented Waititi from asking questions in the debating chamber on Tuesday, insisting that lawmakers could only ask a question if they were wearing a tie.
When Waititi continued with his question after being stopped a second time, Mallard ordered him to leave.
“It’s not about ties, it’s about cultural identity, mate,” Waititi said as he exited the chamber.
The incident kicked off a debate about colonialism in New Zealand, and sparked outrage from around the world with #no2tie soon trending on Twitter. By Wednesday, Mallard had announced that the parliament was scrapping the tie requirement.
“A meeting of the committee held tonight discussed this and heard a submission from Te Paati Māori. The committee did not reach a consensus but the majority of the committee was in favour of removing a requirement for ties to be part of ‘appropriate business attire’ for males,” he wrote on Twitter.
“As Speaker, I am guided by the committee’s discussion and decision, and therefore ties will no longer be considered required as part of ‘appropriate business attire’. I acknowledge those who felt this was an important issue worthy of further consideration.”
Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Waititi said he was not surprised by the treatment of the speaker as Māori people had been facing this type of treatment for hundreds of years.
“Māori have not been treated equal in its own country and indigenous people all over the world have been subjected to discrimination due to racist systems that keep our peoples in second place,” he said.
“For us to stand up against subjugation, to stand up again assimilation, to stand up against those who try and make us look, feel, make us think like they want us to think … this was standing up against that.”
Waititi wore the same attire to parliament on Wednesday and this time he was permitted to speak.
“The noose has been taken off our necks, and we are now able to sing our songs,” Waititi said in the interview.
The New Zealand parliament is the most inclusive ever elected in the country. Nearly half of the 120 seats are held by women.
It has a 11% LGBTQI representation and 21% Māori representation. The parliament saw its first member of Parliament of African origin and of Sri Lankan origin after the election last October.
But Waititi, who has called ties “a colonial noose,” said there is still systemic racism in New Zealand, and this was a product of colonization.
Māori are over-represented in prisons, the majority of children in state care are Māori, and poverty and unemployment are rife in the community.
Asked to comment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that it was not something she had a strong opinion on, and that she had no objection to someone wearing a tie in parliament or not.
“There are much more important issues for all of us,” Ardern said.