Gender inequality in New Zealand

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gender equality is the notion that each gender should receive equal treatment in all aspects of life, and that one should not be discriminated based on their sex. Gender equality is a human right, which is recognised under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[1]

Gender equality is increasingly framed as being central to the realisation of both modernisation and economic efficiency, and its achievement presented as a key to good governance.[2] As a result, the New Zealand government has implemented institutional mechanisms to promote the advancement of gender equality. In 2016, New Zealand was ranked 9th out of a total of 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report which ranks countries in terms of gender equality in the population under four heads: economic participation, health, education and political empowerment.


In the World Economic Forum’s annual report on the global gender gap, New Zealand was ranked in 9th place in 2016. The Global Gender Gap Index ranks countries on how far women are behind men in regards to health, education and economic and political indicators. Instances where women have rated ahead of men, are not counted as inequality.[3]

New Zealand is a party to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In the OECD's final report on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship it was found that women in New Zealand do more unpaid work than men and new women-owned enterprises outperformed those formed by men. They also found that women achieve more tertiary qualifications then men.[4]

Despite the gap between wage equality slowly closing, the report found that the government funding allocated to reduce gender inequality in New Zealand is on the low side in comparison to other countries in the OECD.[4]


New Zealand has had a long history of promoting women's rights. It was the first nation in the world to give women the right to vote in the 19th century. Women were unable to vote until 1893 and were not able to stand for parliament until 1919. The first woman to win an election was Elizabeth McCombs in 1933. Iriaka Rātana was the first Māori woman MP in 1949 and Dame Jenny Shipley was the first woman to be prime minister in New Zealand from 1997 to 1999.[citation needed]

During the 19th century, European settlers assumed that Māori women were not powerful in society. Due to this assumption, they only negotiated with Māori men, and caused inequality between men and women to arise. The settlers brought the expectation that women are wives, mothers and homemakers, while men are supposed to support their wives and children financially.[5]

Historical inequalities for men include the prohibition of homosexuality for men until the homosexual law reform bill in 1986 and military conscription.[citation needed]

The country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 10 January 1985, and its optional protocol on 7 September 2000. The Ministry for Women is responsible for administrating the CEDAW and its Optional Protocol. The committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women makes recommendations on any issues affecting women that the state should address. As of April 2015, the committee has made 29 general recommendations on issues affecting women that states should devote more attention to.[6]

Legislation for gender equity[edit]

The legal framework in New Zealand provides comprehensive protection against all forms of discrimination covered by the CEDAW.

In 1973 The Domestic Purpose Benefit (now the sole parent or jobseeker support) was introduced for all parents caring for dependent children without the support of a partner.[7] The Accident Compensation Amendment Act 2010 also extended compensation to non-earners, benefiting women who do full-time unpaid work in the domestic home.[8]

New Zealand has also enacted a number of legislative means to provide for equal pay for the genders, outlawing sexual discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and proposes to set out rights in regards to equal employment for career progression in the workplace.

Legislation in respect of gender equality in the workplace include the Equal Pay Act 1972,[9] the State Sector Act 1988[10] and the Human Rights Act 1993.[11][12]

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990[13] protects all New Zealand citizens from discrimination on the basis of sex.

Section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sex (including pregnancy and child birth), marital status and family status.[11]

Preventing gender inequality in proposed legislation[edit]

New Zealand has a mechanism to prevent gender inequality in the proposed legislation. Section 7 of the Bill of Right Act requires the Attorney General to report to Parliament if a bill appears to be inconsistent with the non-discrimination requirements of the act. However, parliament is not bound by these reports.

Papers presented to cabinet are required to undergo a gender analysis by the Ministry for Women to determine the potential impacts on women and girls.[14]


New Zealand law states that men cannot be raped, as it is defined by a penetration of a vagina by a penis.[15]

Male assaults on females[edit]

Section 194 of the Crimes Act, ‘assault on a child, or by a male on a female’, sets the maximum penalty for a male assaulting a female at two years and such assaults are not covered by the less restrictive 'bail as of right' provisions. The equivalent charge of common assault has a maximum one-year penalty and is covered by 'bail as of right' provisions.

The Law Commission reviewed the Crimes Act in 2009 and recommended a repeal of this law and suggested that the maximum penalty for common assault be increased so that the more serious cases can still be dealt with appropriately.[16]

The proposed Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill[17] seeks to address the limitations of using ‘male assaults female’ as a mechanism to address domestic violence; however, Amy Adams explicitly recommended keeping 'male assaults female'.[why?][18]

There are some other laws refer to ‘male assaults female’ which creates further gender inequalities. The Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995[19] allows investigators the ability to take bodily samples from people accused of certain crimes. The gender neutral equivalent, common assault, is not included in the act.


In the case of a woman killing her child, she can be charged with the crime of infanticide instead of murder if "the balance of her mind was disturbed". Infanticide has smaller consequences than murder, and men cannot be charged with infanticide. In New Zealand, there has been at least one case of a man being charged with murder where a woman would have been charged with infanticide.[20]

Law professor Kevin Dawkins from Otago University wants infanticide to be replaced by new legislation that applies to both female and male offenders.[21]

Some people have argued that this law contributes to a misconception that childbirth or breastfeeding can contribute to insanity, and have called for the law to be replaced with one that recognises that people with certain mental ilnesses are capable in controlling their actions.[22][23]


The Adoption Act 1955 prevents males from adopting female children unless the male is the father, or under "special circumstances".[24]


The 2014 NZCASS reported that overall, both women and men experience the same amount of violence with 10% of respondents reporting one or more incidents. However, the type of violence was different. Women were more likely to have experienced violence from an intimate partner (5.7% female vs 4.4% male) and men more likely to experience violence from a stranger (2.7% female vs 4.0% male).[25]

Victimisation by relationship to offender.[26] Percentage of people victimised once or more, 2013
Violent interpersonal offences by
Family Intimate partners (for people who have had partners) Family excl intimate partners Not family People known excl family Strangers
% % % % % %
Female 6.9 5.7a 3.1 6.5 4.8 2.7a
Male 5.8 4.4 2.8 6.8 4.2 4.0a
^a This result is a statistically significant difference between men and women at the 90% confidence level.

In 2013 an estimated 23.1% of violent interpersonal offences against females were reported to the police. 29.8% of all crime against women was reported to the police. Crimes may have been reported to the police by someone in the victims household, or the victim may have been aware that the police found out about it from another source. There is no statistically significant difference between females and males reporting crimes to the police.[26]

There has been a reduction in the reports of coercive control behaviours from their current partner between 2006 and 2013. Females were less likely to report coercive control (14.4% of females vs 17% of males). Most behaviours had similar rates but 9.2% of males reported their partner "gets angry if speaks to someone who is the same sex as their partner" compared to 4.8% of females.[citation needed]

Lifetime experience of partner violence and sexual violence[edit]

Lifetime experience estimates are less reliable than asking about incidents in the previous 12 months because memory becomes more of an issue. Also, "the questionnaire does not explicitly ask this in reference to 'current' partner at the time of incident. Depending on the respondent's interpretation of the question, responses could include incidents by 'ex-partners'. Percentages include people who said 'yes', 'don't know / can't remember' and 'don’t' wish to answer'. The decision to include uninformative responses as if they had said they had experienced violence was based on literature findings that they are likely to be concealing a 'yes' response."[citation needed]

Overall there has been a reduction of lifetime reports of violence from partners. In 2006, 29.3% of females reported they had experienced one or more incidents of partner violence (assault, threats of force, threats to damage property, or damage – to property). This went down to 26.1% in 2013.[citation needed]

There was also a reduction in lifetime sexual violence (forced sexual intercourse, attempted forced sexual intercourse, distressing sexual touching, or 'other sexual violence'). In 2006, 28.3% of females reported a lifetime experience of sexual violence compared to 23.8% in 2014.[citation needed]

Both lifetime partner violence reports and lifetime sexual violence reports for females are significantly higher for females than males. For partner violence, in 2014, 13.8% of males reported, compared to 26.1% of females. For sexual violence, in 2014, 5.6% of males reported, compared to 23.8% females.[27]

Domestic violence[edit]

The Domestic Violence Act 1995 addresses domestic and family violence and pursuant to the act domestic violence can be charged as a criminal offence.[28][non-primary source needed]

In New Zealand the government has implemented specialist family violence courts and means-tested legal aid services which provide referral and advocacy as well as applicant support and outreach for victims of domestic violence. The New Zealand government has made steady progress in implementing fundamental criminal justice reforms that strengthen victim's rights and aims to provide greater protection for those at threat of family violence – most of whom are female victims of male violence.[29]

The social attitudes in New Zealand currently remain an impediment to combatting domestic violence and as such, is one of the major barriers in achieving gender equity in New Zealand. In essence the relatively strong legal framework is not always effectively implemented and domestic violence continues to be a challenge for New Zealand society. It is estimated that only 18% of family violence cases are reported to the police.[citation needed]

However the attitudes towards family violence in New Zealand are in the midst of change as a result of a sustained national campaign – The Campaign for Action on Violence within Families, which aims at changing social attitudes towards family violence. The government has also implemented similar programmes designed specifically for Maori, Pacific and migrant women which are endorsed by their communities.[29]

Rates of partner and sexual violence against women had a statistically significant reduction from 2005 to 2013. "The annual rate of partner violence offences against women decreased from 8.6 percent in 2005 to 5.7 percent in 2013. The annual rate of sexual violence offences against women decreased from 5.2 percent in 2005 to 2.9 percent in 2013."[30]

The Ministry of Health currently discourages care providers from routinely enquiring with patients about intimate partner violence where males are victims, stating, "Routine enquiry is not recommended because of the differences in prevalence and severity of violence against men. However, if signs and symptoms of IPV are present, males should also be questioned about the occurrence of IPV, or other experiences of violence."[31]

The latest New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey found that 4.4% of males and 5.7% of females reported one or more incidents of partner violence in the 12 months preceding the survey.[32]

A few studies on domestic violence in New Zealand, such as by the Women's Refuge or Police do not gather information about men.[33][34]

Developments and present status[edit]

In the past century, the gender gap in New Zealand has been slowly closing in and there has been an increase in women's rights and feminism. The government is making steady progress and it is evident that the fundamentals for equal rights are all in place: democracy, the rule of law and an independent judiciary. The government has also implemented effective structures of governance, specialized human rights and other accountability mechanisms, and has recognised the vulnerability of particular groups and individuals.

Although New Zealand consistently ranks in the top half dozen of countries in the world when it comes to equality between men and women, it is not complacent in terms of gender equality. New Zealand women still do not experience the full equality guaranteed by the law. Across the economy, women's skills are under-used in leadership and women continue to earn less than men – even if they have the same qualifications, and similar job descriptions. Family violence also continues to be a cause of considerable disquiet.

However, many of the remaining gender gaps in New Zealand do not appear to be a conscious disregard to the law (as there is comprehensive legislation in place), rather it is largely based on subconscious prejudice and factors like occupational segregation.[29]

Employment and the workplace[edit]

The government's current goals and priorities in terms of employment equality for New Zealand women are linked to its broader goal of improving New Zealand's prosperity in the economy. This is to allow women to have more choices and opportunities to use their strengths to maximise social and economical success.

Gender equality is a topic in the workforce that has received increasing discussion and momentum. New Zealand started as the first nation to have full voting rights for women in 1893. From there, women entered the workforce in the 1960s, although the participation rate of men and women at the time was 81 percent and 67 percent respectively.[35] The goals of the New Zealand policy is to achieve women's representation in these organisations. Along with this, large corporations are encouraged to meet with the Ministry for Women.[36] New Zealand has utilised ways to further improve gender equality, by creating gender analysis tools so that various aspects can be further developed.

Feminists in New Zealand have developed their goal of creating greater equality for women. Equal economic agenda is a pillar of the liberal feminist ideas stemming from the 1980s.[37] The aim of these organisations is to create greater economic independence for women. The goal of these programs is to increase representation for women and help them gain further recognition in the economic sector.[38]

The development of different policies towards greater equality in the workforce is championed by the various women's organisations in New Zealand. The Women's Affairs is recognised on a national level in the country.[39]

The Ministry also created interactive relationships with different female organisations. The workforce has benefited from the government interaction with women's organisations and helped to understand the change in the various female demographics in the economic sector.[40] The commitment of the government to provide an equal working field is an important aspect of equality for women in New Zealand. There is a National Action Plan to implement UNSC Resolution 1325, which is dedicated to Peace and Security for women.[41][relevant?]

Men make up 71% of work-related injuries in New Zealand, meaning that men are two times more likely than women to be injured. 96% of workplace deaths are men.[42]

Political and public representation[edit]

New Zealand has had a high level of participation by women in public life and this is evident from the modest female representation in politics and the judiciary.[citation needed] As of 2020, 48% of parliament members are women.[43]

At present there are no adopted quotas and targets to increase the number of women to ensure the equal representation of women in all publicly appointed bodies by the New Zealand Government. Rather, the government has developed a policy of ‘soft targets’ to promote equal representation. This was criticised by the Human Rights Commission as being insufficient as there is no dedicated machinery to guide it.[44]

Employment rates[edit]

In terms of New Zealand labour force participation, the female unemployment rate is statistically higher than that of men (with the unemployment rate being the highest for Māori and Pacific women). Women generally have higher rates of participation in all categories of unpaid work – within and outside of the household. The amount of part-time workers in New Zealand are three quarters women.[45] Various demographics of women take on more part-time work than men.[45]

The report from the New Zealand census of Women's participation in Government and Professional Life shows 60 percent of women have no position in the top 100 corporations.[46] According to advocacy group Global Women, in 2019, 18 percent of companies listed on NZX did not have female representation in their board.[47] As of September 2020, 22.5 percent of directors on NZX listed companies are women, with the top 50 listed companies having higher proportions of female directors (31.6%) than all other listed companies (15.9%).[48]


With regard to pay equity, the domestic gender pay gap in New Zealand when comparing full-time workers is rather low in comparison to other countries. The gender pay gap in New Zealand was calculated to be 9.9% in 2014, which was the lowest in the Asia Pacific Region.[49] Approximately 63 percent of women's work in New Zealand is unpaid, compared to 35 percent of men's work.[50]


Primary school[edit]

In years 1–8 fewer boys than girls are meeting national standards according to 2015 figures.

  • For reading, 73.9% of boys and 82.4% of girls are meeting national standards. 8.5 percentage points difference[51]
  • For writing, 63.9% of boys and 79.4% of girls are meeting standards. 15.5 percentage points difference[52]
  • For maths, 74.8 percent of boys and 76.2% of girls are meeting standards. 1.4 percentage points difference[53]

Secondary school[edit]

Fewer boys stay in school until 17, 81.4% compared to 86.5% (5.1 percentage points difference)

  • Boys are behind girls at NCEA level 1 attainment by 2.7 percentage points (89.8% vs 87.1%)[54]
  • At NCEA level 2 boys lag 4.8 percentage points (85.8% vs 81.0%)[55]
  • At level 3 girls are 14.2 percentage points ahead (60.0% vs 45.8%)[55]

Tertiary education[edit]

Women are 60% of those who gain tertiary certificates and diplomas. Women also earn 60% of bachelor's degrees and above. 54.1% of STEM graduates are women, however women make up only 22.9% of engineering graduates, 27.9% of IT graduates, and only 11.1% of apprenticeships.[56]

Not in education, employment, or training[edit]

Women outnumber men for 15 to 24-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training (NEET). In 2016 12.9% of women were NEET, compared to 10.1% of men.[56]

Family assets and resources[edit]

The Administration Act 1976 (section 77) provides for equal inheritance rights for sons and daughters and there is no evidence of discrimination in practice, or under any informal customary systems.[57]

New Zealand women have the right to non-discrimination in the ownership and access to land. The Maori Land Act 1993 provides for gender equality in the control and use of land and resources.[58] In terms of non-land assets, there are no restrictions on their equal rights to property, regardless of marital status.

Women also have the equal right to financial services pursuant to the Human Rights 1993.[11]


On average, women have better health outcomes than men and women generally have a higher life expectancy. However, New Zealand has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the OECD, especially for Māori teens.[citation needed]

Men and women have equal access to health services.[29]

There are no screening programmes for prostate cancer in New Zealand, but there is for breast cancer. Genomic testing for prostate cancer is not funded whereas it is for those with breast cancer. In terms of research funding, breast cancer receives $12 million per year whereas prostate cancer receives $3 million per year.[59]


For the 2016/17 year there were 457 male suicides and 149 female suicides. The suicide rate per 100,000 population was 19.36 for males and 6.12. Traditionally the ratio is about 3:1 male to female.[60]

Life expectancy[edit]

The New Zealand life expectancy at birth for babies born between 2012 and 2014 was 79.5 years for males and 83.2 years for females, which is a difference of 3.7 years.

A male New Zealander born in 2013 can expect to live for an average of 65.2 years independently, and another 14.3 years with some level of disability requiring support.

Females can expect to live for an average of 66.5 years independently and another 16.7 years with functional limitations that require support.

At birth, therefore, females can expect to live independently for 1.3 years longer than males. They can also expect to live 2.4 years longer with disability requiring assistance than males.[61]


In Auckland, the majority of the homeless population is male,[62][63] with 80% being male, 16% female and 4% being unidentified.[64]

According to a survey of trans and non-binary New Zealanders, 25% of these people surveyed have either been homeless or have used an emergency shelter.[65]

See also[edit]


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  9. ^ [4], Equal Pay Act 1972
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External links[edit]