DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN

  • Deborah Morris
Associate Minister of Women's Affairs

Mihi

Ko te mea tuatahi, he mihi ki te Atua, nana nei nga mea katoa

Firstly, acknowledgement to Io, for it is from Io that everything exists
E nga mate, haere, haere
Hoki haere atu ra ki tua o te ~rai

To those who have passed on, return from where you came
Ko Ranginui e tu ake nei, e tu, e tu, e tu.
Ko Papatuanuku e takoto nei, takoto, takoto, takato.

We acknowledge Ranginui the skyfather and Papatuanuku our earthmother who rests below.
Te whare e tu nei, ka tuku nga roimata ki a koe mo to awhina mai i a matou.
Tena koe

To the house we are in, we acknowledge your presence and the protection you provide
Te hunga ora, koutou ma, mai i nga hau e wha, tena rawa atu. Tena tatou e huihui mai nei ki te whakatau i te kaupapa o te ra nei.

To those before us, from the four winds of the world, thank you for your invitation and hospitality to address the issue of today.
Te kaupapa, ki te whakairi i nga ahuatanga kei roto i nga ringaringa o Papatuanuku, a, ko te mana wahine.

The issue being to present to you progress and developments with what rests in the arms of Papatuanuku, Mana Wahine...
No reira, koutou ma, huri noa i te ao nei, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

On that note, to us all, greetings, and thank you.

Madam Chair and distinguished members of the Committee, the New Zealand Government has great pleasure in presenting the combined third and fourth reports on New Zealand's progress with the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The New Zealand report covers the four years from 1994 and notes the progress New Zealand women have made since our last presentation was made to the CEDAW Committee (CEDAW/C/NZL/2 and Add.1 refers). You also have before you New Zealand's core document which contains background information and statistical data about New Zealand.

As Associate Minister of Women's Affairs I am proud to represent New Zealand's Coalition Government at this presentation. I am also representing the Prime Minister and Minister of Women's Affairs, Rt.Hon Jenny Shipley. The Prime Minister has asked me to convey her own personal message to the Committee:

"It is my pleasure to be once again the Minister responsible for New Zealand's Report to the CEDAW Committee.

New Zealand has a long history of innovative policies designed to enhance the status of women. Our 1998 Report is a record of continuing progress for women in New Zealand.

New Zealand women have many success stories: for example, more than 50 percent of women are now in paid work, 40 percent of new businesses are now started by women, and greater numbers of women than men are now enrolling in tertiary education.

Some of the proudest achievements of my Government have been initiatives that are improving women's lives and delivering equal opportunities for women.

Landmark achievements include the introduction of the Domestic Violence Act 1995, the development of a sexual and reproductive health strategy, free visits to general practitioners for children under six, employment programmes for women, Maori and Pacific people, programmes to increase the number of women on decision-making bodies, and funding for more and better data collection on all aspects of women's lives, including, most significantly, New Zealand's first time use survey.

As announced in the 1998/99 Budget, the Government is supporting women through increased funding for childcare and out-of-school care for low income and sole parent families and through programmes to help women into their own businesses. At the same time, we are improving assistance for women and families through a range of health care and social assistance programmes. The development of innovative employment programmes is encouraged through increased government contributions to the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.

I look forward to receiving the Committee's comments on New Zealand's combined third and fourth CEDAW reports and wish the members of the Committee well for the current session."

Madam Chair, before I proceed with this presentation, I would like to introduce to you the other members of the New Zealand delegation.

Judy Lawrence has been Chief Executive of the Ministry of Women's Affairs since 1995. Judy was one of the leaders of the New Zealand delegation to the Beijing Women's Conference.

Paula Snowden is manager of Te Ohu Whakatupu, the Maori policy unit of the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Paula's tribal descent is Nga Puhi, Ngati Whaatua and Ngati Te Ata.

Deborah Moran is on the staff of the Prime Minister and Minister of Women's Affairs, Rt Hon Jenny Shipley, where she is an adviser on Women's Affairs.

Janet Carson is on my staff as an adviser on Women's Affairs. Her tribal descent is Te Arawa and Tuhoe.

Roger Ball is a First Secretary at the New Zealand Mission to the United Nations.

Madam Chair, you have already received our report covering the period 1994 to 1998 and the delegation will shortly be responding to the Committee's written questions on the report.

New Zealand's Coalition Government takes its responsibilities under the CEDAW Convention extremely seriously, and we have endeavoured to present in our report an accurate and clear picture of the status of women in New Zealand.

Material contained in the CEDAW report has come primarily from government departments and agencies. It also the reflects the information and insights gained from extensive consultations with non-governmental organisations during the preparation of the report.

I would like now to briefly describe New Zealand, its population and economy - the context within which the Government has been working for women.

New Zealand is a small nation with a resident population of 3.7 million of whom 16% are the indigenous Maori. Almost three quarters of the population live in the North Island. We are a highly urbanised people, with 85 percent living in urban areas according to the 1996 census.

I am pleased to be able to say that New Zealand's economic performance has improved greatly since the early 1990s. As noted in an April 1998 OECD economic survey, the economic reforms that began in 1984 in New Zealand have brought welcome dividends. We now have an open and competitive economy. We have enjoyed seven consecutive years of growth. We are paying off public debt. We have rising employment. And our unemployment rate has moved from one of the highest in the OECD to one of the lowest. At the same time, inflation is contained at well under two percent.

Although economic growth has slowed to around 2.5 percent per annum since late 1996, activity is set to regain momentum later this year, boosted by tax cuts which took effect at the beginning of July, increased Government spending in priority areas and substantial gains in international competitiveness. We must, however, be cautious in saying this as recent developments in Asia, especially Japan and Korea which are important export markets for New Zealand, give cause for concern. The impact on New Zealand's growth, including indirect effects through the economy of Australia, our major trading partner, could therefore be significant.

The latest available data was used in the preparation of the CEDAW report. Much of the statistical information was provided by Statistics New Zealand, the government agency responsible for collecting and publishing statistical information about the economic, demographic, social and environmental circumstances of New Zealanders.

New Zealand collects a range of statistics which assist in analysing the comparative status of men and women. These are comparable with those carried out in other OECD countries. Like Australia and Canada, we have a five yearly census. In recent years, Statistics New Zealand has undertaken an increasing range of social surveys. There are regular surveys such as the quarterly Household Labour Force survey, the Household Economic Survey, an annual household income survey, a quarterly employment survey and a range of health surveys. Other specific surveys include a 1998 child care survey, a 1998/99 Time Use Survey, a 1996 Education and Training survey and a 1996 disability survey.

New Zealand's small population means that sample sizes tend to be lower than equivalent surveys overseas. This can limit the capacity for detailed analysis by sex and ethnicity. The Time Use Survey however compares well internationally and is notable in that it is oversampling the indigenous Maori population to ensure that meaningful data are obtained.

Madam Chair, I am especially pleased, at this point, to be able to report on New Zealand's efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action.

New Zealand Government representatives played an active role in the formulation of the Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995. At the Conference, Hon Jenny Shipley, the Minister of Women's Affairs, announced that she planned to use the actions outlined in the Platform as the basis for developing a strategy to improve the status of New Zealand women.

Following the conference, the Government identified six cross-cutting themes from the Platform for Action where further action would be taken. These are:

mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development of all policies and programmes,
women's unremunerated work,
the gender pay gap,
the need for more and better data collection on all aspects of women's lives,
the Platform's recommendations which are relevant to Maori women and girls as indigenous women; and
enhancing women's role in decision-making.
The Platform for Action has been the basis for many of the Government's initiatives for women since 1995. The Minister of Women's Affairs last week reported again to Cabinet on key achievements and sought further action from her colleagues in the key areas.

Madam Chair, I now want to highlight some of New Zealand's key achievements for women since we last met with you in 1994. These are achievements that have been made through legislative reform, policy development and the delivery of better services for women, particularly in health, justice, education and employment.

As you know from the CEDAW report, unpaid work and women's contribution to their communities is a key area of the Government's current work. In 1997 the Coalition Government announced funding of $2.25 million for a comprehensive time use survey which will add to the information on women's and men's unpaid activities.

The survey is being conducted by Statistics New Zealand and is sponsored by the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Information from the survey will help us to understand the contribution of unpaid activities to our economy, and provide information on how people balance their social and economic responsibilities.

The survey will also provide essential information for those who develop government policies and programmes. Full results from the survey will be available in the year 2000 and will be used by Government and its advisers to ensure policies and services are appropriate and fit the realities of people's lives.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs worked with Maori statistical advisors to develop a framework for recording Maori activities. This, together with the statistical oversampling of the Maori population, means that the survey will provide valuable information on Maori.

One of the most significant developments since 1994 has been the legal protection which the Domestic Violence Act 1995 now gives to victims of domestic violence.

The Act is an internationally acclaimed piece of legislation which gives women, especially, the courage to take actions to protect themselves and their families from domestic violence, secure in the knowledge that the law will protect them.

Further details of the Act are outlined in our answer to the Committee's Question number 17.

Reduction of family violence was a key area for action identified by the New Zealand Crime Prevention Strategy in 1994.

The Government's Statement of Policy on Family Violence of June 1996 set out the Government's objectives and directions in the area of family violence prevention. This has seen, for example, the establishment of local inter-agency family violence networks. Safer Community Councils are playing a key role in ensuring these networks are operating in most towns and cities.

The 1996 Budget provided funding of $11.7 million for a variety of family violence prevention programmes. Government agencies such as the Police, the Department of Courts, the Ministries of Health and Education and the Department of Social Welfare are developing strategies to address family violence issues by introducing better methods of dealing with both the victims and perpetrators of family violence. They are also working alongside non-government agencies like women's refuges. Recognising that education is a crucial element in any anti-violence strategy, the Ministry of Education has included violence prevention in the new health curriculum for schools.

The government will continue to treat prevention of family violence as a major focus of its work.

The establishment of the position of Women's Commissioner was announced as part of this year's Budget. For the first time, New Zealand is to have a designated Women's Commissioner on the Human Rights Commission who will be able to utilise all the powers and functions of the Commission as set out in the Human Rights Act, for the benefit of women. The Women's Commissioner will report annually on progress on the human rights of women in New Zealand and her work will complement that of the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

The Prime Minister and I look forward to working with the Women's Commissioner. I expect the Commissioner to also meet regularly with women's organisations and to play an educative role within the community.

As you know, the gender pay gap is of concern to all nations. New Zealand women earn approximately 80.5 percent of men's average hourly earnings. While this compares favourably with other comparable nations the New Zealand Government is committed to narrowing the gap further through a number of measures. A broad approach will include improved data gathering and analysis, education of employers, research on gender bias in remuneration systems and programmes that assist more women into work and provide them with higher qualifications and training.

The Government has recently introduced a unified pay system for primary and secondary school teachers. This meant a significant wage increase for primary teachers most of whom are women. Through measures such as this the Government sets a positive example for private employers to follow.

The Government recognises that a change of attitude is required to close the gender pay gap. For this reason, the funding ratio for the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust has been doubled to assist them to continue to work with employers to implement best practices to encourage women to enter and stay in the workforce.

I am pleased to report that more women are now participating in public life than ever before. Thirty one percent of appointments and re-appointments made by the Cabinet Committee on Appointments and Honours in 1997 were women. The comparable figure for 1993 was 25 percent. As part of our response to the Beijing Platform for Action, the Government is aiming for gender balance on statutory boards by the year 2000. That is an ambitious target but one worth striving for.

The Government's director training initiatives referred to in New Zealand's report signal its commitment to getting more women onto statutory boards and to increasing the pool of potential company directors. The initiative includes seminars for potential directors of Crown companies, as well as introductory courses for women keen to serve on statutory boards. Over a quarter of participants have been Maori women.

The Government also introduced new producer board legislation in 1997. These boards now have to include women and Maori in the lists of potential directors whom they recommend to Ministers.

Women are participating in tertiary education at higher rates than men as both full-time and part-time students. Over the past five years, the number of Maori in tertiary education has more than doubled, with Maori women outnumbering Maori men in every category.

New Zealand women are starting new businesses in unprecedented numbers. Forty percent of new businesses are now started by women, and this is predicted to increase to 50 percent within the next four to five years.

New Zealand women are proving to be outstandingly successful in business, both in the local market and in the export trade. Women have had particular success in niche markets such as organic food production, the apparel and fashion industry, publishing and tourism. Innovative networks support women entering business, such as the mentoring and financial services provided by the Maori Women's Development Fund and the peer support offered by the Women in Self-Employment network.

New Zealand's business women look forward to the opportunity to showcase their successes and innovative approaches at the 1999 APEC Women Leaders Network meeting which will be held in New Zealand.

The Government recognises that the health of women and their families is fundamental to the health of the nation. We have therefore initiated a number of significant programmes to improve the health of women and families.

The importance of the sexual and reproductive health of women was recognised by the Cairo Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Women's Conference. The New Zealand Government's Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy aims to promote responsible sexual behaviour, minimise unwanted pregnancy, reduce abortion rates, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, and improve access to contraceptive information and products.

The Strategy includes free access to contraceptive advice and counselling for high risk groups, defined as those having a high abortion rate.

The Coalition Government has implemented a policy of free visits to general practitioners for children under six. Access to this service will make health care for children more affordable and accessible for women and their families. Not having to worry about the cost of doctors' visits for young children gives parents considerable peace of mind.

In 1994, a Health and Disability Commissioner was appointed and a Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights developed in response to the recommendations of the 1988 Committee of Inquiry into allegations concerning the treatment of cervical cancer patients at National Women's Hospital, chaired by Justice Dame Silvia Cartwright.

The role of the Health and Disability Commissioner is to promote and protect the rights of people using health and disability services and to investigate complaints against providers of health or disability services.

Consumer rights are set down in the Code of Health and Disability Consumers' Rights. The Code promotes the rights of consumers to receive services of an appropriate standard and to facilitate the fair, simple, and speedy resolution of complaints related to these rights. In particular, the Code states that every consumer has the right to be free from discrimination, coercion, harassment, and sexual, financial or other forms of exploitation.

A national breast screening programme is to be implemented during December 1998. The breast screening programme will provide a free two-yearly screening for women aged between 50 and 64.

The Government is very conscious of its responsibility to protect women and children from any form of exploitation. The Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 has provided New Zealand with rigorous censorship legislation. The Act contains offence provisions relating to the possession and supply of objectionable materials. The Act is administered through the Office of Film and Literature Classification which gives expert decisions on the classification of films, videos, literature and other publications, which are in accordance with the law and constrain civil rights only to protect human rights. The Office also has a role to provide information to the public.

The New Zealand Government has taken measures to try to control the availability of pornography and objectionable material through the internet, especially child pornography. In addition to the Office of Film and Literature Classification, the Department of Internal Affairs' Censorship Compliance Unit monitors the internet, and there have been successful prosecutions relating to the trade of pornography and child pornography on the internet.

The New Zealand Law Commission's "Women's Access to Justice" project is finding ways to make legal services more user-friendly for women. Over the last two years, the project team has talked to hundreds of women about their experiences of the legal system. The project studied four main aspects of the delivery of legal services to women: access to legal information, the cost of legal services, access to legal representation and advice, and the education of lawyers. The report, due later this year, will be welcomed by the Government, by those delivering legal services, and by women as consumers of legal services.

In March this year, the Minister of Justice introduced into Parliament two bills dealing with property following the breakdown of marriages and de facto relationships. This is important legislation for women. It will establish fair rules for the division of property on the death of a spouse or on the breakdown of a relationship.

The Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill updates the Matrimonial Property Act 1976. It extends the basic division rules of the 1976 Act to provide that on the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse will be entitled to the same share of the matrimonial property as would have applied had the marriage broken down.

The Bill also includes measures covering the treatment of heirlooms and taonga (treasure), greater powers for the Courts where minor or dependent children are involved and better protection where matrimonial property has been disposed of to a trust or company.

Family structures and norms are changing with increasing numbers of couples living in de facto relationships. There is at present no specific provision in New Zealand law for the division of property when a de facto relationship ends. The De Facto Relationships (Property) Bill includes a presumption of equal sharing, but this applies only to the family home and chattels. The division of other property will reflect the partners' respective contributions to the relationship. This differentiates it from the Matrimonial Property Act where there is a presumption of equal sharing of all matrimonial property.

Madam Chair, I would now like to discuss New Zealand's two reservations remaining under the Convention. I am pleased to be able to report progress in each of these areas during the reporting period.

With regard to women in combat, considerable efforts have been made to increase career opportunities for women in New Zealand's armed forces. In the Royal New Zealand Navy women are able to be employed in all trades except that of diver. There are no restrictions on the employment of women in the Royal New Zealand Airforce. Within the New Zealand Army women are not yet able to be employed in combat arms trades such as rifleman, gunner, armoured vehicle crew, field engineer or as a member of the Special Air Service.

It is expected that further progress will be made towards the removal of this reservation over the next reporting period.

Extensive work is also under way in the Defence Forces to address sexual harassment and to provide an equitable organisational culture.

New Zealand also has a reservation on the introduction of maternity leave with pay. The Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 provides for parental leave for both women and men. In 1995, the Ministry of Women's Affairs released research which compared parental leave policies in New Zealand with provisions in Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. The research found that the provisions available in New Zealand are in most respects among the best in the world, offering strong job protection, and good access to maternity, paternity and extended parental leave. An advantage to New Zealand women under the current legislation is their ability to negotiate flexible periods of leave including the use of other leave with pay provisions. Internationally countries are tending to grant all women employees access to unpaid leave such as New Zealand has had since 1987.

We acknowledge that a significant number of women are unaware of their rights to parental leave. The Human Rights Commission are currently preparing information on the rights of pregnant workers which includes information about entitlements to parental leave.

Along with legislative provision for unpaid maternity and paternity leave, New Zealand is moving towards a situation where "comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances", as set out in the Convention, might be realised in the future. For example, we already have a universal benefit system covering all medical costs associated with the birth of a child. This exceeds what most countries offer. In addition, New Zealand provides financial assistance to many families to ensure couples and sole parents have at least a minimum level of income. These include cash payments to couples and sole parents in paid employment as well as benefits to those not in paid employment, such as Accommodation Supplement, Family Support, Guaranteed Minimum Family Income, and Independent Family Tax Credit.

Members of the Committee will also be interested to note that, during the reporting period, a number of private firms in New Zealand, particularly banks, legal practices, financial consultancy practices and insurance companies, have introduced paid parental leave in order to retain their highly skilled women staff.

I now want to spend some time talking about the support the Government provides for women on low incomes or not in paid work.

For those not in the labour force, state funded income support is available. In the reporting period, income support has remained tightly targeted at those most in need, including women. A 1996 OECD study showed that the level of social assistance for sole parents in New Zealand is either at or above the OECD average depending on the ranking method used, while New Zealand Superannuation is considered to be one the best income support arrangements for older women in OECD member countries.

Provision for sole parents provides income protection for parents who have separated or had their children outside a relationship. It is increasingly accompanied by measures to actively encourage and assist sole parents to move into employment, education or training.

The Social Security Amendment Act 1996 lowered the initial abatement rate for those receiving the Widows, Domestic Purposes and Invalids benefits. This increased the incentive for beneficiaries to seek part-time work, and to move into sustained full-time work and thus become independent of the social security system. At the same time, support is still there for those in genuine need.

In the Budget of May 1998 the Government announced the Work Focused Welfare policy. This introduced a radical change in welfare direction and reinforced the Government's belief that paid work is the key to achieving personal economic and social independence. From February 1999, new work test obligations will apply to people on the Domestic Purposes and Widows Benefits. Where the youngest child is 14 or over, sole parents will be expected to look for full-time work. Where the youngest child is aged 6 to 13, parents will be expected to look for part-time work.

I would like to stress that the work test sanctions have little impact on women beneficiaries. Since April 1997, only six domestic purposes benefit recipients have been sanctioned for failing the work test.

Many female beneficiaries are excused from the work test. Moreover, most of those who fail the work test are exempted anyway because they have a "good and sufficient reason", such as illness or lack of childcare. People's circumstances must be taken into account before a decision to sanction is made.

A new work test regime is contained in a new bill, the Social Security (Work Test) Amendment Bill, currently before a Parliamentary select committee. While the consequences of certain types of failure will be greater for some beneficiaries under the new regime, the current exemptions as well as the reasons set down as "good and sufficient" for failing the work test have been extended. We do not therefore expect more women to be affected by the new work test sanctions.

To make it easier for sole parents to take up work, the Government is offering more childcare support. We have set aside an extra $31 million in childcare subsidies over the next three years including a subsidy for out-of-school care services for eligible working parents on low incomes with children aged 5-13 years. This will expand the existing child care subsidy which at present covers only pre-school age children.

Sole parents with no access to sick leave in the first six months of work may be eligible for financial help if they or their children are sick.

These initiatives will ensure that sole parents have the means and opportunity to provide quality care for their school age children while they take up paid work opportunities.

In 1995 New Zealand participated in the United Nations' World Summit for Social Development. The Summit adopted a Declaration and Programme of Action which included ten specific commitments including a commitment to eradicate poverty.

New Zealand is fortunate in that absolute poverty as defined in the Programme of Action is not part of our economic and social environment. The Government supports the emphasis in the Declaration and Programme of Action on sustained and sustainable economic growth and development as a way to address poverty, on the importance of productive employment in developing a dynamic approach to individual and family income, and on the efficiency of the "safety net" provided by income support systems.

New Zealand's CEDAW report includes a report from the Administrator of Tokelau. New Zealand's ratification of the Convention also extended to the Cook Islands and Niue. However, as self-governing states in free association with New Zealand, the Cook Islands and Niue not only have the capability to enter into and implement their international obligations, but this is also recognised as their responsibility. We are presently involved in discussions with the UN Secretariat to determine how best to realise their wishes to be represented before the human rights treaty bodies on their own behalf and stand ready to assist both countries to meet their human rights reporting obligations.

I have asked my officials to assist me to answer the 96 questions the Committee has put to us on the New Zealand report. We have kept the answers succinct to allow time for the delegation to have dialogue with the Committee following the presentation of the answers. I look forward to taking part in that dialogue.

Thank you, Madam Chair.