News > International Women's Day Statement

New Zealand women at risk because of gender discrimination

7 March 2017

New Zealand women at risk because of gender discrimination

Highly respected organisations involved in the health and wellbeing of New Zealand women have joined forces this year to mark International Women’s Day tomorrow, Wednesday 8 March with a warning that the welfare of New Zealand women is at risk because of gender discrimination.

As the first country to give women the vote New Zealand has prided itself on its record with women’s rights. But signatories to the joint statement believe that New Zealand is falling behind in its treatment of women. A few years ago we simultaneously had a woman prime minister, woman governor general and women in a number of other key leadership roles. However, women are now conspicuously under-represented in positions of power and under-valued in their work.

The New Zealand College of Midwives has been joined by the National Council of Women, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Māori Women’s Welfare League, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, Oxfam, Parents Centre, the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa, the Midwifery Employee Representation & Advisory Services, the Māori midwives’ organisation Nga Maia, Homebirth Aotearoa, Rural Women New Zealand and the Coalition for Equal Value, Equal Pay in warning about the deteriorating position of women in New Zealand society.

Their joint statement says:

  • New Zealand women earn 12 per cent less than men when median hourly pay rates are compared, partly because professions largely peopled by women are not valued as highly as men’s. Midwifery and aged care are prime examples and each profession has a profound influence on the health and welfare of families/whānau and the community as a whole.

  • Far too many women are unsafe in their own homes because they are subject to attack by their partners. New Zealand has been recorded as having one of the worst rates of family and intimate partner violence in the world with one in three women experiencing physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.

  • Mothering, as an occupation is not well supported in New Zealand. Many women who would choose to delay a return to the paid workforce after having children cannot afford to do so due to insufficient paid parental leave. Our economic system has led to impossibly high housing costs which force women to work when they might prefer to be caring for their children.

  • Women are still not fully represented in parliament or business. Only a third of seats in parliament are occupied by women and research last year showed that there were no female CEOs among New Zealand’s 50 largest stock market listed companies.

  • Examples of sexist, demeaning and verbally, if not also physically violent behaviour towards women reach the news media with a frequency that is disturbing in a country that purports to be a leader in recognising the rights of women.

All of this betrays a deep-seated and often unconscious bias in New Zealand towards women according to the organisations that are participating in the statement. We have lost momentum and we need to acknowledge this as a society; individuals, policymakers, leaders. We need to embrace as many opportunities as possible in 2017 to protect and enhance women’s rights before we fall further behind.


Karen Guilliland, Chief Executive, New Zealand College of Midwives is available for interview.

Media contacts: Ali Jones, 027 247 3112, Maria Scott 021 329 405

Sources:Ministry for Women http://women.govt.nz/work-skills/income/gender-pay-gap; sourced from Statistics New Zealand: New Zealand Income Survey :Statistics on partner violence: Government’s It’s Not OK campaign website and Family Violence Clearing House (which provides original sources) :Female CEOs in top 50 companies from New Zealand Herald survey