The Government has been urged to strengthen women's rights in New Zealand by setting harder targets and improving resources across employment, health and education by the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
The Committee said it "notes with concern a number of challenges" that continue to impede women's equality including violence against women, pay inequality and pay equity, the status of vulnerable groups, including women with disabilities, the impact of Canterbury's earthquakes on women, proposed cuts to legal aid and the adequacy of targets and benchmarks.
"This is one of the most comprehensive, independent reports on the status of women's rights in New Zealand and its recommendations make it clear that we must act quickly if we want to continue to be a world leader in women's equality," says Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.
"The Committee recognised that New Zealand is on the cusp and identified areas of regression in women's rights as well as progress".
The Committee's recommendations include:
the establishment of a Human Rights Select Committee in Parliament to improve oversight on human rights and gender equality;
the development of a national action plan for women and adequate funding for the Ministry of Women's Affairs;
the systematic collection of data on harmful practices including cyber bullying targeting teenage girls;
improved reporting of domestic and sexual violence, strengthened training for police and judiciary on violence against women;
more help for M?ori and migrant women and higher level representation on the Task Force for Action on Violence within Families;
a review by the government of targets, goals and time frames for advancing women in decision-making positions;
a systematic programme to ensure parents understand the voluntary nature of school donations and to collect data on the real cost of education to parents;
implementation of measures to decrease the drop out rates among Maori girls;
extension of paid parental leave to seasonal and fixed-term workers currently excluded, and to men in their own right;
establishment of a monitoring mechanism for gender pay inequity to replace the dis-established Pay and Employment Equity Unit;
enforce equal pay for work of equal value and make public service chief executives accountable for pay parity;
review of the abortion law improvement in mental health services for young women, minority and M?ori and Pacific women;
improvement in access to and the quality of health services for lesbian women and transgendered people;
revision of the legal minimum age of marriage to 18 years without any exceptions for parental consent to address the issue of forced marriage in migrant communities.
Women's employment rights were a big focus of the Committee's final comments. It noted "with concern" the high level of unemployment, especially among young women and within ethnic minority groups. It also noted the persistence of occupational segregation for women. While commending New Zealand for extending paid parental leave to the self-employed, the Committee wants new legislation to cover seasonal workers who are currently discriminated against and men in their own right.
Proposed legislative changes to collective bargaining also attract criticism and the Committee wants the Government to "carry out an independent evaluation of the gendered impact of the reform of collective bargaining and ensure that it does not negatively affect women's employment and trade union rights."
Many of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission's recommendations were picked up by the Committee who received a high-level delegation headed by the Minister of Women's Affairs Jo Goodhew in New York last month (July). Members of the Commission and women's civil society groups also attended and spoke to the Committee.
In its report the Committee welcomed the presence and the contribution of the NZHRC to its work.
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