ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRAISES NEW ZEALAND’S POLITICAL WILL, AS MINISTER PLEDGES COMMITMENT TO FACE REMAINING CHALLENGES TO GENDER EQUALITY

2 August 2007
WOM/1650

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRAISES NEW ZEALAND’S POLITICAL WILL, AS MINISTER PLEDGES COMMITMENT TO FACE REMAINING CHALLENGES TO GENDER EQUALITY

2 August 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1650
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Chamber B, 805th & 806th Meetings (AM & PM)

anti-discrimination committee praises New Zealand’s political will, as minister

 

pledges commitment to face remaining challenges to gender equality

Commending New Zealand’s political will to improve the situation of women, expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women explored further means to promote both formal and substantive equality in the country, stressing, in particular, the need to strengthen the concept of discrimination against women in domestic legislation, as opposed to discrimination based on sex.

As the Committee met in Chamber B to consider New Zealand’s sixth periodic report on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, several experts pointed out that the country’s Bill of Rights contained provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and sexual orientation, whereas the Convention focused on “discrimination against women”.

Presenting the report, Lianne Dalziel, Minister for Women’s Affairs, said that while the country compared well to others, its Government was aware of the remaining challenges facing it and was committed to addressing them.  Among New Zealand’s achievements since its last appearance before the Committee in 2003, she mentioned the release of the Action Plan for Women; the strengthening of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs; and measures to support women’s participation in employment.  Other positive developments included the establishment of the Family Violence Ministerial Team, supported by a Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families, the abolition of interest on the student loan scheme, and the establishment of a commission to advocate for families.

She said this year’s review of the women’s Action Plan had revealed areas requiring more attention, including the rate of participation in the Modern Apprenticeship Programme, the sexual health of girls and women, and participation by women with disabilities.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was working with the Tertiary Education Commission to eliminate any de facto discrimination and developing a project to encourage more young women to consider joining male-dominated trades.  New Zealand was also addressing its high rate of unplanned pregnancies and the steady rise in the number of sexually transmitted infections among young people.

On political leadership, she said women made up about a third of Parliament’s membership.  They currently held three of the four top constitutional positions in the country -- Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Speaker of the House of Representatives.  New Zealand had also achieved real success with its appointments to government boards and committees.  Women now made up 42 per cent of statutory board membership.  In contrast, women formed only 7 per cent of the directors sitting on the boards of the top 100 companies.  However, the Ministry was working with the private sector to increase their participation.

One Committee expert noted that women were still underrepresented in decision-making, suggesting that special measures were needed to give them more opportunities, to which the Minister replied that there was a perception that New Zealand had already achieved full gender parity in politics.  There was a local expression that women were running the country and a sense that nothing more needed to be done to promote their participation.

Responding to another expert, she said the only way to establish quotas would be to reserve local government seats for women, which, however, would cause an outcry.  There were reserved central government seats for Maori candidates, however, and the Equal Opportunity Commission had been conducting seminars nationwide to encourage women to contest in local government elections.  That had been very effective, but political party quotas for women were not a realistic option at the local level because candidates tended not to run under political parties, but as independents.

Members of the Committee congratulated the country on its advances in the areas of women’s employment, education and combating violence.  They welcomed New Zealand’s ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol and its withdrawal of the remaining reservation to the Convention, which prohibited women from serving in combat roles within the military.

Among other issues discussed in the experts’ dialogue with the delegation were negative gender stereotypes; violence against women; the situation of women belonging to the Maori, Pacific Island and other ethnic communities; trafficking; and prostitution.  One expert said some groups were regarded as inferior and less worthy of rights and dignity and thus were at a higher risk of discrimination.  Information provided by non-governmental organizations revealed concern about the exploitation of migrant women.

The entire Committee will take up the initial report of the Cook Islands at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, 3 August.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to take up the sixth periodic report of New Zealand (document CEDAW/C/NZL/6).

Lianne Dalziel, Minister for Women’s Affairs, headed the New Zealand delegation, which also included:  Michelle Casey, Ministerial Adviser; Shenagh Gleisner, Chief Executive, Ministry of Women’s Affairs; Cherie Engelbrecht, Senior Policy Analyst, Ministry of Women’s Affairs; Diane Mara of the non-governmental organization PACIFICA; Rosemary Banks, Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Kirsty Graham, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations; and Nicola Hill, First Secretary, Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Presenting the other delegation members, the Minister said non-governmental organizations played an important role in contributing to policy, being a conduit to the Government on a range of issues and often delivering services to communities.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs worked very closely with them and had a special relationship with three women’s umbrella organizations:  the Maori Women’s Welfare League, the National Council of Women of New Zealand and PACIFICA.  The Ministry had funded five non-governmental organization representatives who had presented a “shadow” report to the Committee’s current session.

She also acknowledged the presence of the Cook Islands delegation, welcoming that country’s accession to the Convention in its own right and noting that it would be reporting to the Committee tomorrow.  That would be a historic moment for Cook Islands women.

Introduction of Report

Ms. DALZIEL said New Zealand’s achievements since its last report to the Committee in 2003 included the release of the Action Plan for New Zealand Women; the strengthening of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs; and measures to support women’s participation in employment, including the Working for Families package, which provided for increases to the accommodation supplement, the introduction of tax credits, and greater access to quality child care.  Other developments, although not specifically targeted at women, had had a positive impact on them.  They included the establishment of the Family Violence Ministerial Team, supported by a Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families, the abolition of interest on the student loan scheme, and the establishment of the Families Commission to advocate for families.

Having withdrawn its only remaining reservation to the Convention, which related to women in the armed forces, New Zealand was now in full compliance with the treaty, she continued.  That reservation had permitted discrimination against women with respect to serving in combat roles.  The country had also made progress in monitoring the Action Plan for New Zealand Women, launched in 2004, women’s participation in paid employment, increased earnings in real terms, and greater participation in tertiary education, particularly for Maori women.

While still below the male rate of 75.7 per cent, women’s participation in the labour market was now at a record 61.8 per cent, she said.  The wage gap, which had stood at almost 17 per cent in 1997, had peaked over the last six years around the 12 per cent mark.  The Government was leading by example through pay and employment equity reviews conducted within the public service and the public health and education sectors.  More Maori women than ever were now in paid employment, and there had also been strong growth in the number of Maori women in business.  Since 1991, self-employment among them had increased by 167 per cent, and while Maori women still earned less than men and other groups of women, the disparity was narrowing.  As part of the country’s Choices for Living, Caring and Working Plan of Action, the Government was extending the coverage of paid parental leave to self-employed women and increasing the leave period from 12 to 14 weeks.  Efforts were also being made to improve the accessibility, quality and affordability of child care.

The first review of the Action Plan for Women -– the principal accountability mechanism -– had taken place this year, highlighting some areas that required more attention, she said.  Those areas included the need to increase participation in the Modern Apprenticeship programme, to improve girls’ and women’s sexual health, and to improve participation by women with disabilities.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was working with the Tertiary Education Commission to eliminate any de facto discriminatory provisions and developing a project to encourage more young women to consider male-dominated trades.  New Zealand was also addressing the high rate of unplanned pregnancies and the steady rise in the number of sexually transmitted infections among young people.  A review of how sexuality education was taught in schools would be released shortly.  Proud of its leading role in developing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, New Zealand was reviewing its legislation and policies so that it could ratify it as soon as possible.

She said major steps had been taken to eliminate family violence.  The Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families was unique in that its membership included decision-makers from the Government and non-governmental sectors and included the judiciary, the police, the Chief Families Commissioner and the Children’s Commissioner.  Its first report, published last year, explicitly acknowledged that the predominant pattern of partner violence was one of male violence directed at a female partner.  The country had established new Police Area and District Family Violence Coordinator positions nationwide.  Only yesterday, the Minister for Health had announced that screening of women who may be experiencing violence or abuse would now occur in all public hospitals.  Next month, a nation-wide advertising campaign would start to back up community initiatives to reduce society’s tolerance of violence and ensure that victims knew where to go for help.  A free telephone number was being advertised as the first point of contact.  The Government was now reviewing implementation of the Domestic Violence Act of 1995 and research on women’s experiences of court protection orders would be a direct input in that review.

Drawing the Committee’s attention to the new Ministerial Group supported by a Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, she said it would provide greater leadership and coordination of services with the aim of reducing the incidence and impact of sexual violence.  The Government was concerned at the low level of reporting of sexual crimes and low prosecution and conviction rates for such offences.  Work currently under way included investigating how many reported cases of sexual violence resulted in conviction, identifying and reducing barriers to the lodging of complaints, and investigating how the criminal justice system could best support victims.

Responding to issues raised by the Committee in its written questions, she assured the experts that New Zealand’s laws were fully compliant with the Convention, saying the country had only became a party to a treaty once its existing legislation, policy and practice complied with treaty obligations.  The country had unique constitutional arrangements:  it was one of three countries in the world without a fully entrenched constitution, and its treaty obligations, therefore, were generally implemented through a number of statutes rather than a single piece of legislation.  Domestic laws that were relevant in terms of the Convention included the Bill of Rights, the Human Rights Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Property Act, the Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act.

Turning to women’s leadership, she said that when she had become a Member of Parliament 17 years ago, women had made up about a quarter of that body.  Today, they formed one third.  Women held three of the four top constitutional positions in the country –-Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Speaker of the House of Representatives.  New Zealand had also achieved real success with its appointments to government boards and committees, making up 42 per cent of the membership of statutory boards.  In contrast, women made up only 7 per cent of the directors of the top 100 companies, and the Ministry was working with the private sector to increase their participation.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked what relevance the Convention had in national policy-making, and whether the National Action Plan for Women referred to it.  She praised New Zealand’s ratification of the Optional Protocol and the bilateral support it had provided to the Cook Islands in its reporting to the Committee.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked if New Zealand was willing to consider a specific gender equality act that would supplement the Human Rights Act.  Were gender issues fully mainstreamed into the Human Rights Commission’s action plan for human rights? 

XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, asked about specific strategies to help disadvantaged women.  What role did the Ministry of Women’s Affairs play in implementing such strategies, and which government body comprehensively oversaw gender equality?  Who monitored compliance with the Convention? 

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked why New Zealand had not included temporary special measures in its action plan for women, and pointed out that they constituted affirmative action and a proactive government approach to ending discrimination.  They were particularly necessary in an advanced country like New Zealand.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said the Bill of Rights Act served as a check and balance on the content of legislation, ensuring that it measured up to the required standards, including those concerning women’s rights.  The 1993 Human Rights Act strengthened that purpose and had, in fact, replaced two earlier pieces of legislation, including the 1972 Race Relations Act and the 1977 Human Rights Commission Act.

On indirect sex discrimination, she said the Human Rights Act made it clear that discrimination based on sex was explicitly prohibited.  It also forbade discrimination against pregnant women and discrimination based on one’s family status.  There was a private members bill to ban discrimination against women who breastfed their infants in public.

She said New Zealand had ratified the Optional Protocol.  In cases of disputes, a person had the right to go to the Human Rights Commission, which had a dispute-resolution service.  If a resolution could not be reached, people could take their cases to the Human Rights Tribunal.  They also had the right of appeal.  The fish-processing case discussed in the country report was a good example of dispute resolution.

On the possibility of a gender equality act, she said the Bill of Rights Act screened all laws, and there were no plans to detract from that approach.  The Act was an effective means of addressing discrimination.  Intensive consultations had been held throughout New Zealand, involving women nationwide, on the action plan for human rights.  It was expected to produce good results.  As for the importance of gender issues to the Human Rights Commission, in 2003 the Commission had appointed an Equal Opportunity Commissioner to focus attention on gender concerns.  Indeed, it was important for the Government to have gender equality strategies that combined health, housing, education and justice, and for government offices to work together rather than in isolation.

She said the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was the smallest in the Government, with 35 staff and a budget of some $4.2 million.  However, its role should not be underestimated.  It was “the best quality” Ministry and had achieved a lot with very little.  Its Chief Executive ran a Steering Group of chief executives from other departments which made sure that women’s issues were addressed in their work.  Ministries were required to conduct gender analyses of their activities and mainstream gender issues into all national policies.

New Zealand would use special temporary measures when they were the most effective means of achieving gender goals, she said.  While the Pay and Employment Equity Unit was not an example of a special temporary measure as envisioned by the Convention, it did provide some temporary measures.  However, the deregulation of the labour market in the 1990s had led to the repeal of pay and employment equity legislation, setting women back in terms of addressing the pay gap.  In that respect, the Government led by example through pay and employment equity reviews within the public service and in the public health and education sectors.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked whether the Government collected data on the number of women murdered by their partners, husbands and family members.  How could the decline in the number of protection orders issued to women be explained?  Did violence have different effects on different communities, including the Maori?  Were any specific measures in place to rehabilitate those who resorted to violence against women?

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said she recognized the Government’s determination to change discriminatory practices against women, but noted that most of the information contained in the report was not up to date.  Much of the information had been provided by non-governmental organizations.  Could the Government provide statistics?

She also asked whether the country’s general strategies to deal with stereotypes took into account the multifaceted nature of discrimination against women, including double discrimination against members of vulnerable and ethnic groups.  She praised the creation of special task forces to deal with violence, and asked about their composition, and the incidence of violence against boys and girls.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said the aim of the Convention was not only formal equality, but also substantive equality.   New Zealand was a multicultural country, and women from all ethnic groups, including the Maori and others, were entitled to measures promoting gender equality and combating discriminatory practices.  What was being done to promote cultural change and do away with negative gender stereotypes?

Some groups were regarded as inferior and less worthy of rights and dignity, which placed them at higher risk of discrimination, prostitution and trafficking, she continued.  While the report did not cite incidents or identify cases of trafficking, it seemed to point in that direction, especially in its references to illegal migrants involved in prostitution.  Information had also been provided by non-governmental organizations, which were concerned about the exploitation of migrant women.  There was a need for greater acknowledgement rather than denial of trafficking.

Quoting a bill on prostitution, she said that since the passage of the controversial Prostitution Reform Act of 2003, there had been an increase in the number of women from Europe and parts of Asia brought into the country, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to work in the so-called escort services.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said some of the recent data that experts had requested was contained in the report of the Taskforce and would be made available to the Committee.  A recent survey indicated that one in four women had been victimized by her male partner over the course of her life, and the whole country was alarmed by the rates of family violence.  During 2000-2004, 54 women and three men had been murdered by their domestic partners.  According to the same survey, more than twice as many Maori women experienced violence at the hands of their partners than women overall.  She said she did not wish to speculate on the reasons for the declining number of protection orders, but a report on that matter was expected at the end of the month.  One issue discussed was whether the police should be permitted to issue protection orders at the scene of violence.

On the consistency of reporting on trafficking, she said the Government was not saying it did not exist, but no identified cases had been taken to the courts.   New Zealand took the issue seriously and had an anti-trafficking action plan in place.  The penalty for trafficking provided for incarceration of up to 20 years and fines of up to half a million dollars.  On prostitution, assessments of the operation of the Prostitution Reform Act were not available so far, but research had commenced at the end of 2006 and would be presented to the Prostitution Law Review Committee at the end of this year.  The Ministry of Justice was gathering information from government agencies and territorial authorities on their responses to the Act.  Research was also being undertaken to assess the impact of the Act on the health and safety practices of sex workers.  According to information presented by the police, since its introduction, there had been no increase in street prostitution and it had, in fact, declined.

Follow-up

In a round of follow-up questions, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that while the Bill of Rights prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, the Convention’s focus was on discrimination against women.  To highlight those grounds of discrimination, the Government had introduced provisions on discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, but it should address discrimination against women more clearly.  While the Action Plan for Women contained a reference to the Convention, it did not refer to women’s human rights.  Was the Action Plan indeed inspired by the need to strengthen women’s rights in the legal order?

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked for statistics on convictions for violence against women and clarifications of the delegations responses to questions about government efforts to mainstream women’s issues into generic policy processes through a multi-agency approach, particularly the statement that all papers for the Cabinet Social Development Committee had been required, since 2002, to include Gender Implications Statements.  Where no gender analysis had been undertaken, those statements should outline the reasons for that.

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA and Ms. SIMONOVIC, experts from Portugal and Croatia, respectively, sought further clarification on the concept of indirect discrimination as understood by the Government, with the latter asking whether the Government had a legal means of implementing special temporary measures.  Did the country have an adequate number of shelters for victims of violence and did the Government provide financing for them?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said the Human Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of age, colour, disability, employment status, ethical belief, ethnic and national origin, family status, marital status, political opinion, race, religious belief, childbirth and pregnancy or sexual orientation.  It did not specifically refer to discrimination against women because that would not fit into all contexts, but obviously childbirth and pregnancy referred to sex discrimination.  The Act dealt with the discrimination that women experienced in all aspects of life.  There were no plans to amend the Act, but the Committee’s points in that regard were duly noted.  The Act was structured so that all women could claim sex discrimination and it protected their rights.

On student loans, she said they had the potential to have a significantly greater impact on women because they remained out of the workforce longer and earned less than men.  The Government had eliminated the interest on the loans altogether, a move that had been welcomed by women’s organizations in particular.

The Government had gathered many statistics from national surveys of victims of domestic violence, she said.  Questioning victims helped to identify how they perceived the motivation of their abusers and that feedback put the Government in a much better position to respond to the Committee regarding the nature of the statistics.  Anti-family violence programmes had improved significantly, and surveys showed that children were damaged by the experience of violence, even when they did not personally experience it.

She said the Government funded women’s shelters and was increasing its budget by $20 million for family violence initiatives, including shelters and assistance programmes for battered women.  In September, the Government would begin a family violence advertising campaign and had set aside a budget to be able to respond quickly in that regard.  As for whether the national action plan promoted women’s rights, she said that was not well presented in the report, but the Government was already talking to women about the 2009 national action plan.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said women were still underrepresented in decision-making, particularly in management and private sector leadership, and the report showed that the percentages had not significantly changed in the last decade.  What action was the Government taking to improve Maori women’s participation in political life?  What improvement had there been at the local level?  At the current rate, it would take a few decades at least to improve the level of women’s participation.  New Zealand needed measures to accelerate that.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that there were not enough women in Parliament, and asked how many Maori women held public office?  Temporary special measures were needed to give more women more opportunities.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said the challenge was a perception that New Zealand had already achieved full gender parity in politics.  There was a local expression that women were running the country and a sense that nothing more need be done to promote their participation in politics.  The empowerment of women in politics was seen as something that the population would not support, but their numbers in local government had actually fallen.  The idea of quotas in political parties would be meaningless because political parties did not, as a rule, contest local elections.  People usually ran as independent candidates.  Moreover, New Zealand had no mechanism for imposing quota obligations on political parties.  There were six Maori female Members of Parliament and 17 per cent of parliamentarians were Maori compared with the 15 per cent of country’s overall population that was Maori.  Ten per cent of women judges were Maori.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, urged the delegation to remind Parliament of its duty to increase women’s participation, and stressed the importance of publicizing the Convention through the national media.

Delegation’s Response

Ms DALZIEL noted that Parliament is not usually involved in preparing the country report, but it had, in fact, helped prepare this particular one.  All treaties signed by New Zealand went through Parliament as part of the ratification process.  It played an important role in supervising the treaty process and had been able to lift the Government’s remaining reservation on the Convention.  The Human Rights Act had required an amendment so that the provision allowing the exemption of women from the armed forces could be removed.  The notification of the withdrawal of the reservation had also gone through Parliament.  There had, therefore, been extensive dialogue on the Convention, which had provided the opportunity to publicize its importance.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked the delegation to elaborate on election rules regarding the introduction of quotas or financing to increase women’s participation.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said the only way to have quotas would be to reserve local government seats for women, but that would cause an outcry.  There were reserved central government seats for Maori candidates.  The Equal Opportunity Commission had been conducting seminars nationwide to encourage women to run for local government.  That had been very effective, but political party quotas for women were not a realistic option at the local level as most candidates tend to run as independents and not under political banners, she reiterated.

Experts’ Questions

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked about school taxes, their impact on the quality of education and students whose families could not afford to pay them.

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, acknowledged New Zealand’s efforts to eliminate discrimination in the labour market, but said much remained to be done.  What were the results of the review of plans to eliminate the gender pay gap by nine public service organizations?  Was more information available on measures to promote participation in the labour market by single parents and young mothers?  Was the gender perspective incorporated into plans to promote employment among the Pacific, Maori and other groups?  She also asked about the parental leave system, including the eligibility of seasonal and casual workers.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said there were provisions in the country’s laws that could provide for the implementation of temporary special measures.  The Action Plan for Human Rights was prepared by the Human Rights Commission.  It covered women, but did not specifically target them, which was the responsibility of the National Plan for Women.

She said there was court-directed rehabilitation for perpetrators of violence, and prison sentences reflected the need for rehabilitation.  In the public health arena, programmes on alcohol abuse, drink-driving and other issues were undertaken for convicted people.  An effective advertising campaign was also directed at smokers, and there were severe penalties for allowing people to smoke on public premises.

Regarding disadvantaged groups, she said New Zealand had many population agencies, including the Offices of Ethnic and Pacific Island Affairs and the Offices for Senior Citizens and Youth Development.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs worked with all those agencies to ensure that gender perspectives were taken into consideration.  More could be done about gender stereotyping in the media, and Committee members’ input on that would be appreciated.

Turning to education, she agreed with an expert that a woman’s education was the future of the family.  Under the law, State schools could not charge fees for teaching the curriculum.  They could ask for donations to cover general costs, but they had to make clear to parents that such donations were voluntary.  While some schools did “slip in that regard”, the Government treated such incidents seriously.

On pay and employment equity, another member of the delegation said the Government had carried out research on the reasons for the persistent pay gap, finding that more than 40 per cent of such differences could be explained by occupational segregation, which remained high in New Zealand.  Efforts to change that situation included research on the influence of occupational segregation on productivity.  Finding a link would send a strong message about the need to change.

Regarding child care, she said there were some improvements, including the recent introduction of 20-hour free child care for all three- and four-year olds, and out-of-school care plans had been introduced.  The needs of Maori and Pacific women were emphasized in related economic plans.

The Minister said that, following a recent evaluation of paid parental leave, the Government had committed to the review of relevant legislation to see if improvements could be made.  Among the issues to be addressed would be qualifying criteria for seasonal and casual workers, the question of a separate leave provision for men, and possible extension of the term of paid parental leave.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said life expectancy for Maori women was lower than for those of European descent due to lower levels of financing and human resources.  Were there special sex education programmes for Maori populations, and had any studies been conducted on the content of sex education in schools?  Were staff properly prepared?  What programmes, if any, addressed the prevention and early detection of breast and uterine cancer among Maori women?

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked about measures to prevent an increase in the HIV-infection rate among heterosexuals?  What HIV-related health benefits were immigrants are entitled to?

SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked the delegation to elaborate on New Zealand’s reproductive health strategy and the findings of the evaluation of its first phase.  How were those findings influencing the next phase?  She asked for figures on stillbirth and abortion rates and their contribution to maternal and youth mortality.  Was information collected according to race and ethnicity?  What were the figures as they related to indigenous women and immigrant women?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about funding to improve drinking water and sanitation systems, home-based health-care services and primary response in medical emergency training.  How much was allocated for that?  Were there any statistics on the number of girls with access to education and the level of education they obtained?  How many schools were there in rural areas?  Were they sufficiently staffed and funded?  Given that farming communities were the most deprived of access to utilities, did the delegation have data on their level of access?  What was being done to improve living standards in the far north?  What plans did the Government have to extend parental leave pay?

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said Maori and Pacific women were disadvantaged in all aspects of life, with limited access to health care.  They suffered high mortality rates, a high incidence of domestic violence and arranged marriages.  Better responses to their needs were required.  How would the Government provide parental leave for seasonal workers?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said that since HIV/AIDS had first become a source of concern, the Government had adopted a comprehensive approach, working with vulnerable groups, including prostitutes, men who had sex with men, and intravenous drug users.  A guide to occupational health and safety in the country’s sex industry had been created, and the New Zealand Family Planning Association received government funding for HIV education.  New Zealand was one of few countries that accepted migrants and refugees with HIV/AIDS, and the Government did not think HIV could be stopped at the border.  Instead, it worked with those who had the disease and those at risk.  Last year had been the first full year of HIV screening for new immigrants, who accounted for 28 per cent of all those diagnosed in 2006.

Another member of the delegation said life-expectancy disparities between women of European and those of other ethic origins were influenced by many factors, including income levels, education, occupation, asset ownership and place of residence.  Many specific programmes, including a family violence programme for Maori women, addressed the needs of disadvantaged populations.  With some 58 per cent of female prisoners being Maori, special programmes were directed towards their education and training.  There was an emphasis on funding particular vulnerable groups.

Concerned about the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, the Government sought to improve the situation, she continued, noting that a cervical screening programme was in place for Maori and Pacific women.  Low birth weight and abortion rates among those ethnic groups were analysed, as were the outcomes of pregnancy and full mortality and morbidity data.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was working with the Ministry of Health to make sure that women’s needs were met.

On rural women, she said that about 86 per cent of the country’s population lived in urban areas, including some 85 per cent of the Maori people.  The Government sought to improve the standard of life for the rural population.  To improve access to health care, a travel and accommodation subsidy assisted low-income earners and people travelling long distances, incurring high costs as a result of frequent specialist visits.  Mobile health services were provided free of charge to rural women.  As for the question of resources for rural schools, there was no significant difference between the situation of rural and urban schools.

New migrants had the right to stay in New Zealand indefinitely, once they received a permit, another member of the delegation said.  Citizenship could be obtained by applying after five years of residence.  Children whose parents had lived two years or longer in the country had the right to education up to the tertiary level.  With the exception of refugees and family-reunion residents, there was no housing or income support during the first two years.

Follow-up

In a round of follow-up questions, several experts sought further clarification.  Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked about the Government’s pay equity concept, specifically whether there was any legislation dealing with work of equal value.  What about pay equity within the private sector?

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked the delegation to provide, in its next report, precise information on implementation of the experts’ recommendations and the progress achieved during the period under review, so the Committee could monitor the country’s achievements.  What was being done to provide legal assistance to vulnerable women and to improve their access to the courts?

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked whether migrant, Maori and Pacific women, as well as those of other ethnic origins had access to reproductive health services.  Were services delivered in culturally appropriate ways and in their respective languages?  She also wanted to know about midwifery training whether agencies other than the Ministry of Women’s Affairs understood their obligation to implement the Convention.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said the language of the Equal Pay Act stated that there should be equal pay for work of equal value.  The 2002 Employment Relations Act had repealed the Employment Contracts Act that had deregulated the labour market in 1991.  The Employment Contracts Act had taken away the system of national awards that had general coverage and industry-wide job evaluations.  Under the previous legislation, the Government would have done a comparison of pay scales for police officers compared with public hospital nurses.  The evaluation would have indicated that both worked in dangerous situations with long hours, but that police officers were paid more.  But that analysis had never been done.  Public hospital nurses had been broken into 23 separate bargaining groups to negotiate pay scales with their respective enterprises.  It had been impossible for them to achieve equal pay for equal value.

In effect, deregulation of the labour market had been a complete step backward for women, she said.  In the deregulated environment, the Government had taken the only route available, which was to try to lead by example by providing equal pay for equal value and to hope that the private sector would follow suit.  The Equal Employment Opportunities Trust has a system of endorsing “equal opportunity-friendly” employers.  The 1972 Equal Pay Act remained on the books because it was the country’s one statement of equal pay for work of equal value, but the mechanism for implementing it no longer existed.

There had been a significant increase in access to legal aid, she continued.  Up to 1.2 million people out of a population of 4 million would be eligible for legal aid, a 40 per cent increase in eligibility.

Another delegate apologized for not having included in the report all the steps the country had taken to act on the Committee’s recommendations.  The delegation would do a better job of presenting its programmes and successes in its next country report.

The Ministry of Health had a national breast cancer screening unit, but only 50 per cent of Pacific women had undergone screening, she said.  A breast cancer screening awareness campaign would be launched in the coming months.  New Zealand was not proud of the current outcomes for Maori and Pacific women, but it did have mechanisms in place to serve them.

Experts’ Questions

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked why there was a marriage ban against same-sex couples and requested an overview of government policies on different types of families.  Had there been a drop in domestic violence levels, considering the number of existing task forces?  Was it hard to get a protection order?  How long did it take to get one, and how long did the order last?  Could one partner get a domestic exclusion order to keep the other partner away from the home?  Could a woman get free legal aid to obtain a protection order?

She also asked whether there were any programmes to assist immigrant women and their children in dealing with domestic violence.  Were English-language courses available to help them know their rights?  Did the Property Relationship Act aim to give a spouse who stayed home 50 per cent of her and her spouse’s joint assets?  How difficult was it for women who left their jobs to get legal aid, given the great expense of going before the Court of Appeal?

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said immigrant communities observed such traditional abuse practices as dowry, under-age marriage and polygamy.  What was the Government’s role in monitoring whether women in those communities had access to the legal system, the courts, police and shelters?  Were there any institutions with a specialized cultural understanding that could reach out to them?  Were they willing to help migrant or refugee women obtain access to the police?  What financial support was given to help non-governmental organizations to carry out those services?  Was there any data collection on the various forms of abuse?

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked about education and training for the judiciary with respect to gender equality, feminism and feminine critique of the law.  Perhaps the number of protection orders would not have declined if the judiciary had received training and a good understanding of domestic violence.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. DALZIEL said that, as in many other countries, most marriage legislation applied to a marriage between a man and a woman.  In New Zealand, however, a small minority had conducted a massive, influential and effective campaign opposing civil unions for same-sex couples.  Civil unions for same-sex couples was as much as the public would tolerate.

The Government was evaluating the reasons for the decrease in protection orders and the specific issue of access for protection orders in rural areas.  Refugee and migrant women were particularly vulnerable.  The Government had introduced domestic violence policies several years ago, enabling refugee or migrant women to apply for residency even if their sponsors withdrew their sponsorship as a way to threaten the women if they charged their sponsors with domestic violence.  In such cases, women victims must prove they were in danger or at risk, and that it was dangerous for them to be deported home.

Ms. Dalziel said she had asked the Minister for Immigration to review that policy, which had been in place since 2002, and the Minister had, in fact, agreed to review it.

She assured the experts that the Government had community health and anti-sexual violence programmes for refugee women.

The Property Relationships Act provided for a 50/50 split of property rights for married couples, she said, adding that there was a provision that, in some instances, allowed for a differential to be applied due to special circumstances.

She said she was aware of a dowry case involving migrant and refugee women.  Although it was difficult, in some cases, to differentiate between dowry and a parental gift to a child, it was important to see if there was a gap in the law and remedy the situation.  She said she had not heard of a single case of under-age marriage before the issue had been raised in the Committee.  Under-age marriages were illegal and must be reported to the police.  If the Government needed to make a strong statement condemning such practices, it was prepared to do so.

In her concluding statement, Ms. Dalziel reiterated New Zealand’s commitment to the Convention, emphasizing that the goals of women’s advancement figured prominently in all overriding themes of the Government’s policies.  Among the country’s priorities were the engagement of women in the economy, flexible work practices for women, access to health care, supporting women in business and seeing them well represented in leadership.

Describing domestic violence as a top priority for the Government and a serious problem that it must address, she said:  “For the first time, I feel that we are on the road to recovery, reducing that scourge in society.”  It was also important to ensure a balance between paid and home work, access to justice and health.  Just as important were issues of national identity, commitment to achieving good lives for women and addressing the disadvantages of Maori and other indigenous women.

Closing Remarks

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia and Chairperson of the meeting, concluded the discussion by commending the frankness of the dialogue and expressed deep appreciation for the Government’s awareness of the complexity of the multicultural and multilingual challenges facing it.  New Zealand had made commendable efforts to promote gender equality, and the Committee appreciated the Government’s intention to implement the Convention.  The Government should consider reformulating its legislation and gender strategy in order to address not just discrimination on the basis of sex, but also discrimination against women.  There was a need to bring in the private sector to play its part in implementing the Convention.

She congratulated the Government on the withdrawal of its final reservation, which showed its commitment to full implementation of the Convention.  It was also commendable that the delegation had included representatives of non-governmental organizations, and that the Government had funded their travel to New York.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.