New Zealand Continues to Uphold Proud Pioneering Record on Women’s Empowerment, Delegation Tell Anti-Discrimination Committee

18 July 2012
WOM/1918

New Zealand Continues to Uphold Proud Pioneering Record on Women’s Empowerment, Delegation Tell Anti-Discrimination Committee

18 July 2012
General Assembly
WOM/1918
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

1053rd & 1054th Meetings* (AM & PM)

New Zealand Continues to Uphold Proud Pioneering Record on Women’s Empowerment,

Delegation TellS Anti-Discrimination Committee

 

Cancer Deaths among Indigenous, Minority Women,

Absence of Special Temporary Measures Raise Expert Members’ Concerns

New Zealand continued to uphold its proud record in women’s empowerment, with a high ranking in the Global Gender Gap report for 2011, its continuing efforts to increase female leadership in politics and the private sector and its solid progress in closing the gender pay gap, members of that country’s delegation told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.

Minister for Women’s Affairs Jo Goodhew, who led the delegation, noted that women held 32 per cent of the seats in Parliament and 41 per cent of appointments on State sector boards.  As for the private sector, the Government, women and business leaders were working together to increase the proportion of women on the top 100 company boards to 25 per cent by 2015.  Companies listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange would be required to provide a breakdown of the gender of their board members and senior management.

Presenting her country’s seventh periodic report to the Committee, which monitors the compliance of States parties with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Minister said that since New Zealand had no formal written constitution, domestic law incorporated provisions of the Convention rather than one single constitutional law.  The gender pay gap had declined from 12 per cent to 9.6 per cent in 2011 for median hourly earnings, she said, adding that, to close the gap further, the Government was focusing on sustainable change instead of further legislation, since there was already a robust legislative framework surrounding pay equity.

Expressing concern about the absence of Māori non-governmental organizations from the delegation, Committee members asked a number of questions about the status of Māori women and their access to services.  The rate of death from cervical cancer among Māori women was three times that of their non-Māori counterparts, they pointed out, noting that language and cultural barriers were preventing minority women from accessing cervical cancer and breast cancer screenings.  Māori women also risked losing benefits if they did not attend school.  The expert members also sought to know how Māori women’s rights were protected within New Zealand’s innovative “Whānau Ora” approach to social sector services.

Describing New Zealand as a trailblazer on women’s rights, the Committee’s 23 expert members pressed the delegation to set higher standards for women’s leadership in politics, and to consider adopting special temporary measures.  Expressing regret that the country in which women had first enjoyed the right to vote did not yet have an equal ratio of men and women in positions of political power, they asked about training women to take up high positions through seminars and workshops.  In private sector leadership as well, New Zealand should aim for parity instead of settling for just 25 per cent representation, they said.

Pointing out that three out of eight women Cabinet Ministers were Māori, the delegation said the distance between New Zealand and New York had deterred some non-governmental organizations from participating in the Committee’s current session.  Since Māori women were the heads of their households, they would not miss out on social services provided through the “Whānau Ora” approach, which reframed how Government and other providers interacted with individuals, by seeing them as part of a whānau — a family or wider collective.  Breast cancer and cervical screening programmes were currently trying to address the disparity between ethnicities by reaching out to them through television advertisements.

The numbers of women in political leadership positions were not what they should be, the delegation acknowledged, stating also that there was “no appetite for temporary special measures” to redress the situation.  While the non-governmental organization Rural Women prepared women for local political bodies, training was also offered inside political parties so that women felt confident about their credentials.  Additionally, the youth parliament programme targeted budding parliamentarians.

“But I accept your challenge” to improve the representation of women in New Zealand’s political offices and state sector, the head of the delegation declared.  New Zealand looked forward to implementing the best practices from other nations, and to working with the Committee to better implement the Convention, she added.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 19 July 2012, to take up the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Samoa.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up the seventh periodic report of New Zealand (document CEDAW/C/NZL/7).

Led by Jo Goodhew, Minister for Women’s Affairs, the country’s delegation also included Jim McLay, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations; Kim Ngarimu, Chief Executive, Ministry of Women’s Affairs; Deb Moran, Director of Policy, Ministry of Women’s Affairs; Rebecca Tane, Senior Private Secretary, Office of the Minister; Juliet Hay, Counsellor, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Tara Morton, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission to the United Nations, and Nathan Crombie, Adviser, Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Introduction of Report

Ms. GOODHEW, introducing her country’s report, highlighted New Zealand’s “proud record” of having led the world in giving women the right to vote in 1893, noting that the country was now ranked sixth out of 135 countries by the Global Gender Gap report for 2011.  Pointing out that New Zealand had no formal written constitution, she said domestic law incorporated provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, expressing them in a range of legislative acts, such as the Bill of Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act, rather than a single constitutional law.

Women currently held 32 per cent of the seats in Parliament, she continued, adding that six of the 20 Cabinet Ministers were women and three of eight women Ministers were Māori.  With 41 per cent of women already on State sector boards, the Government planned to increase that proportion to 45 per cent by 2015.  A number of Government and non-government databases fed qualified and skilled women into nomination and appointment processes, she said.  The Government was also working with a group of business leaders to increase the proportion of women on the boards of the top 100 companies to 25 per cent by 2015.  The New Zealand Stock Exchange had announced a rule requiring listed companies to provide a breakdown of their board members and senior management by gender.  The Government, women and the private sector were working together to enhance women’s leadership in the private sector.

Turning to the subject of education, she noted that there were more women than men participating in tertiary education and more Māori and Pacific islander women participating at the certificate, diploma, degree and post-graduate levels, compared to either their European or Asian counterparts.  New Zealand had also made solid progress on narrowing the gender pay gap, reducing it from 12 per cent to 9.6 per cent in 2011 for median hourly earnings.  However, further legislation was unlikely to address remaining gender gaps, and the solution was to focus on sustainable change instead.  The Government was also actively encouraging young women to consider career options in non-traditional areas of education and employment.  Flexible working arrangements, currently available only to those with dependents, would be extended to all workers.

Concerning health, she said women’s life expectancy continued to improve and comprehensive screening programmes for breast and cervical cancer were lowering mortality and morbidity rates. The Maternity Quality and Safety Programme included the development of the first set of New Zealand Maternity clinical indicators to benchmark performance and maternal and infant outcomes.  Highlighting an innovative approach to other social sector services, she said that “Whānau Ora”, the new approach, reframed how government and providers interacted with individuals, by seeing them as part of a whānau — a family or wider collective.  The Whānau Ora approach was being implemented by 33 collectives covering more than 200 providers of health, social and community services, with “whānau navigators” enabling people to access the services they needed.

Acknowledging survey results showing that between a quarter and a third of women would experience violence or sexual violence at the hands of a partner in their lifetime, she said many perpetrators were repeat offenders.  The Government was therefore taking steps to ensure a sustained reduction in violent crime and re-offending though measures including specialist family violence courts, stronger bail laws, and empowering the police to issue safety orders to remove a person from a home in which family violence may have occurred.

Pointing out that the Government was “only one player” in increasing women’s safety, she emphasized the impact of community-led initiatives, which were especially useful in the Māori and Pacific islander communities.  As for Tokelau, it remained a Non-self-governing Territory of New Zealand by its own votes, she said, recalling that, during the Territory’s March 2010 session, its General Fono had endorsed the National Policy and Action Plan for the Women of Tokelau 2010-2015.  The Government was encouraged to see the leadership role that Tokelau women were taking, and pleased in general with the progress that New Zealand had made in empowering women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, said New Zealand was known as a “trailblazer” on women’s rights and was lauded for having been the first nation to give women the right to vote, in 1893.  But according to alternative sources, the county’s current political leadership did not appear to have the same level of commitment as past administrations.  There were glaring examples of discrimination in the private sector, she said, adding that there was an impression that the current administration did not plan to introduce any legislative action to combat indirect inequality.  What was being done to make the Convention, its Optional Protocol, and the Committee’s concluding observations more visible in New Zealand society, particularly among migrant women’s groups? she asked.  What was Parliament’s involvement in that regard? Was the judiciary being trained on the Convention?

PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, expressed regret that the Government did not plan to implement a new gender equality action to succeed the 2004-2009 plan, which had been successful in advancing women’s empowerment.  Did the Government intend to reconsider that decision? she asked.  In what ways did the Ministry of Women’s Affairs work with the Office of Ethnic Affairs and other relevant ministries to promote gender equality?  How gender-sensitive were the reports of various ministries, and were the budget and staff of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs sufficient to tackle its mandate?

VICTORIA POPESCU, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, pointed to the Government’s reserved position on temporary special measures, and emphasized that they could address remaining gender gaps, which were proving to be intractable.  Moreover, there was a legal basis for using them in the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act.  Had any surveys been conducted to determine the effectiveness of temporary special measures as opposed to other steps?  What was the motivation behind the notion that they were not necessary?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW, acknowledging the experts’ concerns about the lack of a successor to the 2004-2009 action plan on gender equality, said the Government was developing and implementing “something much more substantial”, which would address the main goals of improving women’s economic independence, keeping them safe from violence and bolstering them in leadership roles.  Eight of the 10 new targets related directly to issues of critical importance for women, she said.  The new plan involved a Government-wide approach to, among other things, increasing early child education, improving infant immunizations, reducing rheumatic fever, reducing physical abuse of children, and reducing crime, including violent crime.  For each specific target, a comprehensive results-oriented action plan would be published shortly, she said, adding that all her ministerial colleagues were committed to working together to achieve those goals.

Concerning parliamentary oversight, she said her Ministry reported annually on its work and related funding to a parliamentary committee.  As for temporary special measures, she cited scholarships offered by the Ministry of Education.  It was important that women seeking to serve on boards of directors were promoted on merit, she emphasized, cautioning that by promoting them through temporary special measures, women could be seen as “tokens”.  Numerical goals were set to advance women’s empowerment, and all documents sent to the Cabinet’s Social Policy Committee included a gender impact statement.

She said her Ministry worked closely with all Government agencies, including the Office of Ethnic Affairs and Statistics New Zealand to improve gender-disaggregated data.  In December 2010, the Ministry of Justice had launched a comprehensive website to educate people on the Convention.  The direct focus of Government resources was those most in need.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, recalled that the last time New Zealand had reported to the Committee, its delegation had included an impressive number of non-governmental organizations from the Māori community.  What had prevented their presence today? she asked.  Had they been offered Government support to participate?

YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, cited alternative sources as having said that the Government had recently tightened the eligibility criteria for legal aid, which had led to reduced applications by women.  Those seeking help to obtain reparations for gender-based discrimination in pay and other areas relied on the legal aid system, she said, asking what other measures were being taken to enhance their access to justice.

NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, said it was encouraging to hear that the Convention was very visible, but the Human Rights Commission’s report painted a different picture.  Was the Minister for Women’s Affairs trying to investigate how best to include a comprehensive prohibition of discrimination in the constitutional context, especially in light of the Committee’s general recommendations on article 2 of the Convention? he asked.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, commended the delegation’s report and its mention of Parliament’s role in protecting human rights and scrutinizing the relevant legislation.  Was jurisprudence on the Convention available to the judiciary and the general public? she asked.  What was the last resort for women seeking access to recourse for human rights concerns?

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked the Minister whether she had met with women’s organizations to prepare the country report, and whether she and other Ministers had met regularly with such organizations to review gender-equality activities.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW said that prior to reporting to the Committee, her Ministry had sent a draft of the country report to women’s groups for their feedback, and would issue a follow-up on the outcome of today’s meeting.  Regarding the lack of non-governmental organizations in the delegation, she said the great distance from New Zealand to New York had been an obstacle.  However, the delegation had called for an expression of interest by non-governmental organizations wishing to attend and had made some funding available for that purpose.  She said she had also consulted widely on the periodic report, and had involved the Caucus on National Women’s Issues throughout the reporting process, in addition to having published a quarterly report on it.  The Ministry of Justice had improved the Convention’s visibility with its new comprehensive website, she added.

Regarding the Human Rights Commission’s suggestion to establish a human rights select committee to examine the Bill of Rights as far as it concerned the Convention, she said consideration of bill of rights matters was the responsibility of every parliamentary select committee.

Another delegate said the eligibility criteria for legal aid had been upgraded recently in an attempt to make the whole system more sustainable and efficient.  If women were not granted legal aid, they could seek remedies and exemptions for legal grants, she added.

Ms. GOODHEW said the constitutional review process considered a range of issues.  An independent panel comprising a mix of Māori and non-Māori community members was looking into that matter and would report back to the Government.  Regarding efforts to reduce violence against women, she said her Ministry held seminars on the rights of women and the responsibility to protect them.  It had also launched media campaigns in partnership with a wide range of actors to help ethnic women understand their rights in that regard.

Immigration in New Zealand provided permanent refuge for non-citizens suffering domestic violence, she said, adding that the Ministry of Social Affairs had embarked on a case study on violence in migrant communities that aimed to get their voices heard.  The Ministry had partnered with the Office of Ethnic Affairs on the “It’s not OK” campaign to stamp out violence, and had established a non-violence reference group which informed the Ministry’s policy advice.  Additionally, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs had met with representatives of nine non-governmental organizations over a six-week period to seek inputs on how to craft anti-violence policy.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, requested information about family-violence offences covered by the reporting data, citing alternative sources as stating that they would no longer be specifically identified in statistics.  What was the relation between the Domestic Violence Act and the Criminal Code? she asked.  Were there hotlines for women victims of violence free of charge?  Did the Government have data on the number of rape cases reported each year, and how many convictions had there been? She also requested specific data on violence against women in the Māori community and information on specific measures targeting them.

MARIA HELENA LOPES DE JESUS PIRES, expert from Timor-Leste, pointed out that the report stated that all allegations of trafficking were investigated, but made no mention of prosecutions.  Alternate sources had informed the Committee about the existence of “mail-order” and Internet brides, which could be linked to trafficking, she noted, also requesting information on the “raid-and-rescue culture” that targeted the sex industry.  Since poverty and unemployment forced many women into that line of work, did the Government have any measures to tackle those underlying factors? she asked.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW, responding to questions about trafficking, said her country defined trafficking as a transnational offence, which excluded internal trafficking.  Trafficking victims were allowed to remain in New Zealand, with access to social services.  Regarding Internet and mail-order brides, the justice system could take action only if the women were in New Zealand against their will, she said.

Regarding the collection of data on violence against women, she said the Government was on the cusp of various changes in data recording, which had created fears in the non-governmental organization sector that important statistics would be lost.  Reassuring the Committee that the police had not stopped recording statistics, she said they were recording “better data” by collecting information about the identifying features of victims and perpetrators, thereby enabling the prevention of such crimes in the future.

There was also strong collaboration between the Government and non-governmental organizations working in the sexual violence field, she said, clarifying also that family courts were different from criminal courts.  As for the sex industry, she said Department of Labour officials regularly visited the relevant sites.  Prostitution was legal in New Zealand, and if a woman wished to work in that industry, agencies would not try to get them out of it.  However, the Government made every attempt to find employment for sex workers elsewhere, if they so wished.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, expressed concern about the disturbing trend, in New Zealand and like-minded countries, of increasingly gender-neutral language with respect to sexual and domestic violence.  It was sad to note that the words “violence against women” could hardly be found in the official report or heard in the presentation.  Stressing that it was important not to shy away from that “very gender-specific problem”, she warned that camouflaging it would cause further risks for women.  Related to that issue was the problem of stereotyping and increased sexual images of women in the media, which the Committee had noted in its previous recommendations.  While it was difficult to monitor media in industrialized countries because of freedom of speech, it was regrettable that the report had no information on any such effort, she said.

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, noted the delegation’s statement that working conditions in the sex industry had improved, which seemed to suggest that prostitution was a business transaction between two equal parties.  There could be no clear delineation between voluntary and involuntary prostitution, she stressed, before asking about underage prostitution.

Delegations’ Response

Ms. GOODHEW said violence against women was one of her top priorities as Minister for Women’s Affairs.  In that ministerial role, she was held to account on whether or not violence against women had declined, she said, accepting nevertheless the Committee member’s recommendation to do better.

She went on to say that, with the Internet being what it was, sexist advertising was a huge challenge.  New Zealand had a broadcasting standards authority and an advertising standards authority to take action on that.  Moreover, New Zealand took underage prostitution very seriously and proof of age must be provided to visiting inspectors, she added.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. PIRES, expert from Timor-Leste, said parliamentary and Inter-Parliamentary Union statistics actually showed the decrease in the number of women over the years.  Alternative sources had stated that New Zealand did not meet the 30 per cent target for women’s representation in local government.  Furthermore, the 41.5 per cent of women on state boards was actually a slight decrease from the previous 42 per cent, she noted.  Taking that reduction in women’s representation into consideration, she asked whether those statistics argued for the introduction of temporary special measures to make women’s leadership in politics more consistent.

Commending New Zealand’s introduction of the diversity listing rule in the stock exchange, she asked about the current percentage of women on company boards and management.  Why had the Government not aimed for parity, settling instead for 25 per cent of women in private sector leadership?

SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, requested clarification regarding the requirements for foreigners seeking work and residence permits as well as citizenship, asking about the conditions under which dual nationality was accepted.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW said that in cases in which a New Zealander was qualified and available to do a job, an employer must advertise the job to him or her.  Foreigners seeking jobs must prove they were qualified under New Zealand law.  That was currently of particular concern in the health care sector, she added.

Regarding the numbers of women in Parliament and local councils, she said:  “There is no appetite in New Zealand for the use of special measures.”  However, there was a much greater effort to attract to local and federal government a more realistic representation of society.  To achieve the target of women occupying 45 per cent of all seats on State sector boards, fully 50 per cent of all future appointees must be of women, she said, adding that, due to greater demand for more skilled women on company boards, they could only be spread so thin.  She said her Ministry’s database on women was available, as were those of other Government offices.  Some 82 per cent of those selected for programmes to accelerate leadership opportunities were women, she said, adding that the Ministers for Justice, Education and Social Development were all women.

Regarding jurisprudence on the Optional Protocol, she said it was generally available and accessible to legal scholars.  The Supreme Court was the highest forum for correcting injustices.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, emphasized the importance of training women to take up high positions in politics.  She asked whether the Government was holding seminars or workshops to train a political elite of women, pointing out that women’s participation in politics was not a favour that the Government was granting.  It was democracy.

OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, said it was a loss that the country in which women had first enjoyed the right to vote did not have an equal ratio of men and women in politics.  It was not just temporary measures that New Zealand needed, but permanent acceptance of women’s parity.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW noted, in relation to training for women in politics, that the non-governmental organization group Rural Women New Zealand had been active in training candidates for territorial and regional authorities.  Speaking of her own political party, she added that there was a belief that more women was good for the party, and it had put a training programme in place with the aim of giving candidates the confidence that they had the credentials to stand for election.  The youth parliament programme was another great training ground for potential parliamentarians.  “But I accept your challenge” to do more to increase the number of women in politics because, she said, adding:  “Those numbers are not what they could be.”  However, there was no appetite for temporary special measures in New Zealand, she reiterated.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ACAR, expert from Turkey, said New Zealand had many positive accomplishments in education, but the report contained no information on children from immigrant communities and early childhood education.  There were fewer women in technical education and other non-traditional areas.  What was planned to counteract that tendency, which inevitably affected the gender pay gap? she asked.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW added that the immigration authorities were working with migrants and their unions, as well as other stakeholders to resolve problems relating to the quality of family housing, education for their children and employment rights and responsibilities.

Regarding Tokelau, she said the traditional demarcation between male and female roles had been reducing.  The National Policy for the Women of Tokelau had five aims, including increased representation of women in executive decision-making, access to health and reproductive services, and equal access to formal and non-formal education.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, said alternative sources had informed the Committee that the gender pay gap was up to 20 per cent in public service.  In that context, it was not clear why the Government had closed down the Pay and Employment Equity Unit in 2009.  It was an obligation under the Convention to ensure equal pay, he said, recommending that since New Zealand was not considering legislation, it should promote transparency of wages and strengthen the accountability of public service chief executives in that matter.  Paid parental leave was a problem in New Zealand, he said, adding that there was no paid leave for seasonal or fixed-term workers with multiple employment relationships.  Men could only take unpaid parental leave, thereby reinforcing stereotypical gender roles.

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, said New Zealand’s abortion laws were convoluted, requiring a certificate from two certified consultants and making women dependent on the benevolent interpretation of a rule that nullified their autonomy.  After becoming the first country to grant women the right to vote, and despite having progressive legislation in many fields, the Government of New Zealand still needed an urgent legislative review of its abortion laws, she said.

ZOHRA RASEKH, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, said the delegation had not provided any information on health services for minorities of Middle Eastern and African descent.  The rate of cervical cancer deaths among Māori women was three times that of non-Māori women, she said, noting that language barriers and the lack of a culturally-sensitive approach were preventing women from minority communities from accessing cervical cancer and breast cancer screenings.  The report also failed to mention any sexual and reproductive health strategy for different sectors of society, she said, noting also that despite higher rates of suicide among minority and migrant youth, they lacked access to mental health services.

Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, said that on the other side of the Government’s efforts to provide education to Māori women was the fact that they risked losing benefits if they did not attend school.  He also requested clarification on the “Whānau Ora” approach and on how Māori women’s rights were protected within it.

Ms. HAYASHI, expert from Japan, asked about the impact of the Christchurch earthquake on women, citing alternative sources that said domestic violence had increased as result of the trauma.  How was the Government ensuring women’s participation in the recovery process? he asked.  Were there measures to deal with the increased loss of jobs among women due to the earthquake?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW said the gender pay gap was at its lowest level ever.  Agreeing with the Committee that the New Zealand labour market was highly gender-segregated, she said it had been calculated that occupational segregation contributed to 30 per cent of the gender pay gap. All the more reason to enlarge the options in front of women when they were choosing fields of study, she added.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was currently researching the barriers facing women in non-traditional fields such as electricity.  Trade academies based in secondary schools equipped young women students with skills for the trade and technology fields.

As for the Pay and Employment Unit, she said it had been part of a five-year plan that had come to an end in 2009.  At its closure, funding had been transferred to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to finance research and policy on the gender pay gap.  There was a robust legislative framework surrounding pay equity, and additional legislation was therefore not being considered.  Regarding paid parental leave, there was a belief that for successful reintroduction to employment after paid parental leave, one needed a relationship with the employer, which was difficult given the nature of seasonal and temporary employment.

Turning to health, she said the screening programme was currently trying to address disparities between ethnicities by reaching out to those groups through television advertisements.  Noting that family planning clinics provided free contraception advice for all women under the age of 22 years, she said there were 26 sexual and reproductive health providers and a website specially targeted to those below 25 years of age.  However, there was no sexual and reproductive strategy by sector.

She also reassured the Committee that Māori women would not miss out because of the “Whānau Ora” approach because they were the heads of Māori households.  Women also dominated the health and social services workforce.

Acknowledging that a disproportionate number of women had been affected by the 10 January 2010 earthquake, she said it had led to a loss of jobs in the female-dominated retail industry.  The Government was working with tertiary institutions to engage cohorts of young women and provide them with training in non-traditional fields.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, said she was concerned about the situation of women as it related to abortion, which was basically illegal in New Zealand.  Was the Government willing to address that? she asked.  The male-dominated language of the law, which used “he” to describe doctors, was telling.  If women could reach the highest levels of office, should they not be able to decide for themselves whether to have an abortion?

Ms. RASEKH, Committee Vice Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, asked about outreach programmes to give other Asians, such as Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians and Arabs, access to cancer screening programmes.  She also asked about action to implement the Committee’s recommendations on bolstering sexual education programmes.

Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, asked how the Government lived up to its responsibility to provide women with equal pay for equal work.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Committee Chairperson and expert from Brazil, asked the delegation to elaborate on New Zealand’s response to the Human Rights Commission’s recommendation concerning sex-change operations.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW said Members of Parliament would vote on any abortion issues as a personal vote.  There was no appetite among Government members, or those of other political parties, to modernize abortion legislation.  As for access to breast and cervical cancer screening for women of different ethnicities, she said such data were likely to have been collected, but women were not required to reveal their ethnicity in order to undergo screenings.  The Education Review Office’s review of sex education confirmed that there was an adequate range of resources for it.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was required to constantly research and evaluate equal pay issues.

Concerning the Human Rights Commission recommendation, she said the Government had found that health services for transgender people should be provided by the Ministry of Health, and a project team comprising health professionals had been established to address that.  The Health Ministry had set guidelines for health professionals and transgender people and issued a publication to that effect on its website.  As to mental health services for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people, she said there was a funding gap to undertake awareness-raising and workshops.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said she regretted that the country report and the Minister’s opening statement had neglected to address the rights of migrant women in terms of family law, particularly forced marriages, polygamy and dowry-related violence that were not tackled through specific measures.  While the legal marriage age was 18, girls as young as 16 could be forced to marry as long as their parents consented to the marriage, she said.  Did the Government intend to review the legal marriage age more thoroughly and consider raising it to 18 for everyone? she asked.  How could immigration officials recognize so-called “cultural marriages” for immigrant groups when they were not legal for other New Zealanders?  What was the definition of a de facto union for couples that lived together?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW said stories about forced marriages caused her great concern, especially since they were in breach of New Zealand law.  The “social workers in school” system was bringing forced marriages to the attention of the authorities.  Suggestions by support agencies that the law could be amended had prompted the Justice Ministry to agree to a review, she said.  Couples must live together for three years for their civil unions to be legally recognized.  Family court judges were integral members of the family task force on violence.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said 16-year-olds were too young to marry, regardless of parental consent.  The law should be changed to outlaw all marriages for people under the age of 18, thus bringing it in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

ISMAT JAHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noted that the legal aid scheme had been reviewed in 2009, and asked about the current status of the legal aid bill sent to Parliament.  What was really stopping New Zealand from increasing the legal marriage age to 18, especially when many developing countries had already done so?  Why was it necessary to live apart for two years before applying for a divorce? That was particular harmful for women who were abused by their spouses, she said, asking whether the Government was willing to simplify that requirement.

Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, asked whether the Justice Ministry’s review of the legal age of marriage was broad or specifically focused on forced marriages.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GOODHEW said a review of the marriage age was indeed necessary, but she was not aware of a parliamentary process to that effect at present.  The reality was that the average age of marriage was 28 or higher.  The Justice Ministry’s review intended to concentrate on the issue of forced marriage, as well as wider issues.  Abused women received support from Women’s Refuge and other Government agencies, as well as from immediate financial support for themselves and their children so that they were not dependent on their abusers.

In closing, she thanked the Committee members for their challenging questions, saying she looked forward to their recommendations on how to follow the best practices of other nations in implementing the Convention.

* *** *

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