Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue: Challenges and achievements since Beijing 1995

Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue: Challenges and achievements since Beijing 1995

June 11, 2014

Speech: New Zealand Women's Watch Annual Conference 

In 1995 New Zealand took part in the Fourth World Conference in Beijing and signed the Beijing Platform of Action achieve  to achieve gender equality  and the empowerment of women.

At the Conference, Hillary Clinton coined the phrase “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights”.

Put simply it means that women and girls have the right to be free from all forms of violence, abuse and discrimination.

Women have the right to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights, as well as their civil and political rights.

By that I mean have an adequate standard of living and housing; just and favourable conditions of work that includes fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value; access to health and education; participate in decision making and cultural activities; be a valued member of society and have self-determination.

Every woman and girl deserves the chance to realize her full potential.

So what progress has New Zealand made since the fourth World Conference?

Public Service Departments

As Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Commissioner my legislative mandate is with the state sector organisations (through the State Sector Act 1988 and the Crown Entities Act 2004) who are required to be “good employers” with special regard to four target EEO groups: women, ethnic or minority groups, Māori and people with disabilities.

Part of being a good employer includes a transparent, fair, gender neutral remuneration system which is regularly reviewed; ensures equitable job opportunities and conditions; and recognises employee contributions.

Even though that first piece of legislation that brought in the concept of EEO and the good employer requirement is over 25 years, just 5 years before the Beijing Conference, huge gains have not been made.

EEO is about equality in the workplace for everyone and effective EEO programmes will inevitably result in greater diversity at all levels in an organisation.

A key indicator for equality at work is pay. The Human Rights Commission Census of Women’s Participation 2012 reported that there were twenty-two government departments that had gender pay gaps bigger than the average pay gap in the labour market.

Nine government departments had more than a 20% gender pay gap including Treasury and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

As part of our current work programme we recently analysed all 29 public service departments to measure progress on EEO so we could identify  good practice in the advancement of the four target groups.

Another key indicator is representation. We calculated the representation of the four groups across each department and in senior management teams along with average (mean) and median pay gap for each of the groups.

Our public service is predominately female at 60%. The public service senior management teams need more women, Pacific people, Māori and people with a disability.

Māori, Pacific people and women are disproportionately represented in lower-paying jobs and this is a major contribution to ethnic and gender pay gaps.

The gender pay gap was slightly higher at just over 14% compared with the average pay gender gap of 13.4% across the general labour market.

There was no data on the pay gap for disabled people or the numbers of Asians in senior management teams.

Our analysis confirms that there hasn’t been a huge improvement over the last two years.  The outliers are still the outliers.

Pay gender gaps of up to 30% are still significant in many departments.

There were some stand out departments (Corrections, MSD, Education, TPK and ERO) who are doing well for one or more of the target groups, but for the majority progress was very patchy.

I would however particularly like to acknowledge the work of Treasury and the Ministry of Defence in addressing their gender pay gap and representation of women in senior positions.

They are both committed to driving greater gender and diversity outcomes throughout their business which I am confident over time will reflect positively in their EEO outcomes.

Compliance in this area is monitored annually by the State Services Commission through the Human Resources Capability Survey but what is lacking are EEO targets and accountability for those targets resting with the CEOs and State Service Commissioner.

In addition data collection needs to be harmonised and disability data collected and reported.

That needs to change if we are to see our public service departments reflect our changing society and benefit from the greater opportunities that this brings.

Women in senior decision-making roles

Just one year after the1995 Beijing Conference, New Zealand held its first MMP election

That first MMP election saw the percentage of women MPs increase from around 20 percent up to 30 percent but this is where it has pretty much stayed for the last 18 years.

The 2014 election result delivered one fewer female MP compared with the 2011 result, bringing the number in the house to 38.

The result was a step backwards and a continuation of the retrograde trend since 2008 when there was a record 41 women MPs.

We have gone from almost 34% women MPs in 2008 to just over 31%.

In other words, there has been virtually no progress since that first MMP election 18 years ago.

Women make up 51 percent of the population and there should be that number of women in Parliament. Women should not settle for anything less.

National has 26% women MPs, Labour 37.5%, Greens 50%, NZF 18%

There are 30% women inside Cabinet where the decisions are made.

But women need to want to put themselves forward for selection.

Politics in New Zealand is a high-stakes game and I worry that when women see what politicians are subjected to when they fall from grace from both the media and their fellow politicians, they would question why they would risk exposing their families and themselves to a hostile environment.

In my valedictory speech, I said I really hoped that when I left Parliament “I leave with my family, health and reputation intact,”

Being an MP is a high-risk occupation.  The fact is that you can lose all three of the above as have been proven.

I believe there needs to be at least 40 per cent representation from women in Parliament before there is a change of culture, as well as a code of conduct that is signed by all MPs.

Ross Robertson, retired Labour MP, had previously submitted such a code, but it gained very little traction. I hope another MP will take up the cause.

We have similarly made little or no progress on women’s representation on boards both in the public sector and the private sector.

Successive New Zealand governments since the 1980s have committed to gender balance or 50% women on public sector boards. That goal was downsized to 45% to be reached by 2015

But In 2013 there were just 41 % women a tiny increase from 2012 when there were 40.5%.

Somehow I don’t think that the 2015 target of 45% will be achieved.

At the end of 2012 it became mandatory all companies listed on the Stock Exchange Main Board have to declare the gender make-up of their boards.

The NZX has been collecting this and the first results were published this year for  2013. There were just a little over 12 % women directors in the top 109 companies.

The 2013 result cannot be directly compared with the previous Census of Women’s Participation which has been tracking women on top 100 publically listed companies since 2006.

The Census found that as of June 2012 there were 14.75 % women directors, but the Census tracked only the top 100 companies and included dual listed companies that were on both the Australian and New Zealand Stock exchange.

But really whichever way you look at it, only 12% women directors in the top 109 companies is pathetic.

Violence against Women

During the 1980s, there was an increasing awareness of both the social and economic cost of domestic violence.

The dynamics of violence within domestic relationships were being investigated and there was a developing understanding of the various forms that abuse can take.

As well, the role that effective legislation can play in providing protection was recognised

In the year of the Beijing Conference, the Domestic Violence Act 1995 was passed. it was considered world leading and ground-breaking.

The object of the Act is to reduce and prevent domestic violence by recognising that domestic violence in all its forms is unacceptable behaviour, and by providing victims of domestic violence with effective legal protection

Unfortunately, we have made little impression on family violence in New Zealand.

New Zealand is a very violent society.

Intimate partner violence and child abuse and neglect makes up 50% of all violent crime in New Zealand – this includes kidnapping, abductions, serious and grievous assault.

But we know that what is reported is only the tip of the ice berg. Only 20% of cases are reported which equates to 95,000 per year.

If we had 100% reporting we would have upwards of ½ million cases each year, the size of Christchurch and Dunedin City combined.

Not all women may wish to go through the Police, so there needs to be alternate routes to get help.

We need to get to these women basic messages such as:


  • You are not alone
  • Abuse is not ‘normal’ in relationships
  • Help is available
  • The earlier you reach out the better


We need to bust the myths that abuse is caused by both people in a relationship and both must change for it to stop; the myth that children need fathers, even violent ones; and the myth that abuse is caused by drinking, stress and poor impulse-control.

In fact, the abuser is in full control choosing when and how to abuse and it almost always occurs behind doors

We must bust the old chestnuts: “She must have asked for it”, “Some people need the violence, enjoy it or are addicted to it”; “It only happens to poor, brown women”;  ”It’s not in our back yard”; “It can’t be that bad because she would have left””; or “women are just as violent as men.”

Intimate partner violence or IPV is not just physical abuse. It covers multiple forms of abuse all of which can have devastating consequences that impacts on physical health, personal and social well-being, relationships, mental and emotional health, employment and substance abuse.

We need to understand that sexual violence is frequently part of IPV and child abuse and vice versa.

Like a three-headed monster, they feed off their victim taking away self-determination, rights and resources that are critical to being a person… being a human being.

We know about 20% of the cases. But we need to reach the other 80%. Through identifying more cases, we would naturally hope to expect an increase in reporting.

Women and children need to be safer. If we succeeded in this we would expect to see fewer deaths, protection order breaches and reduced re-victimisation.

We need to intervene earlier and would expect to see  that the cases going through  the Police multi-agency triage system  over time to deal with less serious abuse.

We must hold abusers to account and would hope to expect prosecutions to increase and an increased self-awareness that their behaviour is abusive, how it impacts on their partner and children and how to get help.

The justice system needs to be more responsive to women and children. We would expect to see an increase in the number of applicants granted temporary protection orders and in the proportion of breaches of protection orders that are prosecuted.

We would want to see an increase in the number of people are prosecuted and convicted for sexual assault and specialist human rights and IPV training of public servants and judiciary.

There needs to be greater protection and support for marginalised women and children There needs to be more HNZ homes and refuges that are accessible.

Migrant women face many barriers to accessing help such as isolation and financial dependence on their partner.

To reduce deaths we must identify high risk cases and tailor responses.

We must channel resources to those most at risk.

A human rights approach must be taken when developing any national strategy around family violence.

A human rights approach means those affected are involved in decisions and that the most vulnerable are given priority.

This will mean listening to the stories of the victims of how the current system failed them and that is why the Glenn Inquiries ‘The Peoples Report” which has detailed the stories of 500 victims, front-line providers and abusers in the area is so powerful.

A human rights approach will mean consulting with the front-line providers who hold enormous amounts of information and experience.

It is not right that sexual violence continues to be treated in a silo, separate from intimate partner violence and child abuse and neglect.

There must be a route for complaints so those accessing or trying to access services have a route to critique the services so they can be continuously improving.

The most vulnerable and those at high risk of dying must be prioritised.

I am convinced that tinkering with the current system and continuing a scattergun approach with a bit here and a bit there is doomed.

Eight years ago Dame Sylvia Cartwright called New Zealand’s record of family violence as our ‘dark secret”.

In the intervening years there have been too many deaths of women and children through family violence.

Last year there was public outrage over the Roastbuster’s case but no prosecutions or convictions resulted.

What we need is political will, decent resourcing and above all a society that demands change.

Thank you.

EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue

Dr Blue is committed to progressing human rights and issues of equity, particularly those that affect equal employment opportunities.

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