Positive actions to achieve equality

Why can some groups be treated differently in some situations?

Different treatment may be necessary to enable a particular group of people to achieve equality with others.

Both the Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act recognise that to overcome discrimination positive actions may be needed to enable particular groups to achieve equal outcomes with other groups in our society. These positive actions are called ‘special measures’ or ‘affirmative action’. They are not discriminatory if they assist people in certain groups to achieve equality. Any special measure must be based on information that shows that the present position is unequal.

Groups of people that may be entitled to special measures are linked by one of the grounds of unlawful discrimination in the Human Rights Act (e.g. sex, ethnicity, disability). Examples include government programmes targeted to specific ethnic groups or university entry quotas for Maori and Pacific people.

Special measures are an important tool to reduce the impact of discrimination. Such measures are intended to be temporary and should end when the inequality is eliminated.

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