Gender-based violence, employment, gender pay gap, exploitation and trafficking, health and data collection are top issues for women

Gender-based violence, employment, gender pay gap, exploitation and trafficking, health and data collection are top issues for women

July 10, 2018

E ngā mana,  

e ngā reo,  

Rangatira mā,  

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa 

It is an honour and a privilege to be representing the New Zealand Human Rights Commission in my role as Equal Employment Opportunities and Women’s Rights Commissioner.  

Stakeholder engagement 

The Commission carried out significant stakeholder engagement with New Zealand women to inform our report and ascertain the top human rights issues for women.  

We held general consultations and specific ones for Pasifika, disabled and ethnic women.  

I want to acknowledge many of the NGO’s here today that attended these consultations.  

The Commission’s report focused on the human rights issues identified through our stakeholder engagement alongside our own research.  

Madam Chair and Committee Members, the wahine of New Zealand have spoken:  

The top five human rights issues affecting our women are gender-based violence, employment and the persisting gender pay gap, exploitation and trafficking, health and data collection.  

Today, I will focus specifically on gender-based violence, employment, leadership, exploitation and trafficking and the emerging and confronting issue of sexual harassment.

Gender based violence. 

Overwhelmingly, the women told us at the consultations that gender-based violence remains the most significant human rights issue affecting women in New Zealand.  

We are  concerned that the strategic approach to family violence prevention changes from government to government.  

Our report shows that the strategy for addressing gender-based violence has changed multiple times over the last 20 years, with numerous government-led “strategies”, “ministerial groups” , and the establishment of family violence “dedicated bodies” formed at huge cost.  

Invariably, new governments "start from scratch" and while all are well intentioned, none have adequately improved our extremely broken system and number one human rights issue.  Quite simply it is impossible for one Government over two to three terms to achieve this. 

There needs to be a long-term, coherent policy statement and strategy that sets out measurable milestones.  

We ask that the CEDAW Committee make a number of recommendations that include developing a cross party family violence strategic accord that transcends government agendas and political cycles 

Any strategy must include meaningful consultation with disabled 

women, kaupapa Māori and ethnic minorities that make up the brunt of victims.   

We agree with NGO’s statements regarding how baseline funding for family violence has to increase, particularly noting the reduction of funding for legal aid family law cases in 2010 and the underfunding of the Family Violence Clearinghouse.  

While not referenced in our report, we support the recommendation that the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women is invited to New Zealand to investigate the way the New Zealand Family Court and legal aid systems are treating victims of violence and abuse.

Madam Chair and Committee Members, gender based violence is our  top human rights issue and must be addressed during this CEDAW review.   

Employment and leadership of women 

I would have liked to have said today, as my term ends, that equality had been realized for New Zealand women but this is not the case.   

Overall, progress for marginalised groups of women in the workforce or seeking employment continues to be slow and concerning.

Women and, in particular disabled women, young Maori and Pasifika women (under 25 years) are over-represented in the negative labour market metrics.

We have recommended that the Government urgently focuses on these marginalised groups to improve their employment outcomes, incorporate the principle of equal pay for equal value in legislation and enact pay equity legislation that allows women in low paid female dominated occupations to make claims against their employers.   

A little over a week ago Gender Pay Principles were launched by the Government and Unions.  

The Principles were developed in recognition that women in the Public Service departments do not necessarily work in low paid, female dominated areas but are  nonetheless subject to bias and discrimination.  

The Principles will be used as guidance by the  departments in order that the Government target of a zero gender pay gap in the Public Services can be reached by late  2021.  

We absolutely agree with the Government that these Principles will have a broader application across the labour market.

Therefore, we recommend the Committee urges  the Government to look at ways, including legislation, to ensure  these principles will be implemented across all workplaces.  

We also recommend that the requirement to publish gender and ethnic pay gaps and plans to eliminate these gaps should be rolled out to all state sector organisations, which employ almost 300,000 workers or 12% of the New Zealand`s workforce.  


125 years on from New Zealand being the first country to give women the vote, we are proud that three of New Zealand’s constitutional roles, the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, and the Chief Justice, are held by women.  

However, this leadership is not mirrored in other sectors and female senior leaders are difficult to find with only 19% females as directors on New Zealand Stock Exchange or NZX boards and 18% in senior roles in the private sector.  

We have recommended that temporary special measures should be introduced to address the lack of women in leadership roles,  that the target of  women on State Sector  board should be raised to 50% and that NZX mandate that boards must have gender and diversity policies, which are reported annually. 

The government needs to establish measurable strategies and goals to allow this to happen.  

Affordable high-quality childcare has to be prioritised as an enabler. 

We need to be bolder and stronger in ensuring that women are equally represented in decision-making roles at all levels of society.

Exploitation and trafficking 

I want to highlight the issue of exploitation and trafficking and make the point that virtually none of the concluding observations from the last examination have been progressed. 

The government hasn’t updated its plan to prevent people trafficking since 2009 and must do this urgently. 

There is still no strategy for addressing worker exploitation and trafficking although research confirms it is happening in New Zealand. There has been extraordinarily slow progress on this issue and despite the new government prioristising this , it is still unclear what is happening.   

There has been a lack of research ascertaining the extent of worker exploitation in key industries and  a lack of transparency from the government in publishing the results of monitoring performed by 

the labour inspectorate.  

Our first human trafficking prosecutions have involved women. 

International statistics show that 80% of transnational victims of trafficking are women and girls.   

It is possible that some of New Zealand's immigration laws  facilitate the exploitation and trafficking of people. 

We are concerned that female migrant sex workers on temporary visas, and therefore working illegally, are less likely to report exploitation for fear of being deported. Accordingly, we recommend that Section 19 of the Prostitution Reform Act is  repealed.  

It is important that our current system is independently assessed. 

Our recommendations are that an interagency strategy, in alignment with best practice, needs to be implemented in order to address human trafficking and exploitation in New Zealand.  

More research needs to take place into key areas where human trafficking and exploitation affecting women are taking place.

Sexual harassment 

The #MeToo movement has spread to New Zealand and it is clear that sexual harassment is in our workplaces and has been so for some time. While the extent of it is uncertain, we are concerned that it has become entrenched and normalised in the workplace and in society.  

Recent research by the Law Society has confirmed  that nearly one third of New Zealand women lawyers have been sexually harassed during their working life. This is just one industry that has come to light. Ît is very likely that other industries and workplaces will also be implicated. 

Workplace sexual harassment is covered by two separate Acts, and  two agencies that hear complaints. Processes could be made more victim friendly and expeditious. Data collection is fraught and it is difficult to gauge the true extent of this issue. 

Although not noted in our report, we recommend  that there should be a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in New Zealand Workplaces with a similar terms of reference to the Inquiry that is starting in Australia.  

We recommend that there should be legislation requiring all workplaces to have a robust sexual harassment policy,   that a 

nation-wide sexual harassment strategy be developed and 

a centralised agency established that collects data, provides support and resources to victims and workplaces.  

In Conclusion 

Although New Zealand has many issues to work on, we are convinced that we have what it takes to be an exemplar for gender equality.  

We are ready for change and change needs to start here. 

We stand united alongside the government and hand in hand with NGO’s represented here.

We will do what it takes to progress the human rights of our women in all areas, but especially gender-based violence, employment, exploitation and trafficking, health and data collection. 

We sincerely hope that the New Zealand government and the CEDAW committee hear us speaking as one voice on the human rights issues for women. 

Madam Chair and Committee Members, we ask that the issues we have raised become powerful recommendations so that urgent change can take place.   

Āpiti hono tātai hono,  

rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou   

Tātou te hunga ora ki a tātou   

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa 

I pay tribute to those who have championed before us. I give thanks to those of us here today. Greetings to everyone