100 steps on the road to equality for the women of Aotearoa
The Women’s Election Agenda Aotearoa 2014 calls for all political parties in Aotearoa to commit to de facto equality for women by 2020.
More than 120 years after women in Aotearoa won the right to vote, we are far from achieving equality. Women make up 51.3 per cent of the population, yet have the lowest incomes in the country and are grossly under-represented in all leadership positions in places ranging from Parliament to workplaces, unions, schools and businesses.
In 2014, women in Aotearoa still do not have sovereignty over our own bodies, as is clearly illustrated by this country’s shocking sexual assault and domestic violence statistics.
Research released on 14 March 2011 demonstrated that Aotearoa was the best country in the Commonwealth in which to be born a girl. The Royal Commonwealth Society and Plan UK study Because You’re a Girl: Growing up in the Commonwealth showed that, on the basis of eight indicators, there was a greater level of gender equality in Aotearoa than in any other nation in the 54-member Commonwealth. This country received an “A” in five out of the eight indicators and was reportedly the “star performer” in terms of pay equality.
This is extremely sobering and a clear indication of the poor position of women both in Aotearoa and internationally. This country achieved top billing in terms of pay equality, yet the report recorded that women here earn only 72 per cent of what men earn.
We live in a macho, male-dominated society in which male pursuits and achievements are glorified publicly and by the media, while those of women are often close to invisible. Government funding is readily provided for the America’s Cup and the Rugby World Cup, yet Women’s Refuges never have enough funding to provide adequate shelter and other services to family violence victims.
New Zealand in global terms is a wealthy country and there is plenty of money to implement policies to end discrimination against women and to treat women and children fairly. The issue is whether or not we choose to spend money that way, or whether we continue to spend it on giving tax cuts and other benefits to the wealthy as has been done by all governments in recent years. The $14.2 billion spent by the Labour and National Governments in recent years on tax cuts for the wealthiest people in Aotearoa could instead fund the Women’s Election Agenda Aotearoa 2014.
Further funding for the Agenda could be provided by –
- closing loopholes to ensure that the $1 billion to $6 billion lost to the Government every year through tax evasion is instead paid by tax dodgers
- making liable parents pay the $2.6 billion owing in child support (including by the more than 800 fathers earning over $100,000 a year who currently owe millions of dollars in child support)
- collecting the $591 million owing in unpaid fines and reparation
- taking further steps to collect taxes from property speculators – $68 million was clawed back by the Inland Revenue Department in the three years to 2013, with the total amount of unpaid tax yet to be detected still unknown.
In 2014, it is time to put women and children at the forefront.
WOMEN’S ELECTION AGENDA AOTEAROA 2014
Violence against women
- Provide the police with adequate resources to enforce protection orders and require police to act on all complaints of protection order breaches; and provide both the police and Family and District Court judges with further and more comprehensive training about domestic violence.
- Write into the Domestic Violence Act 1995 a prohibition on discharges without conviction for breaches of protection orders and amend the Sentencing Act 2002 to provide that domestic violence is an aggravating factor.
- Implement the recommendations in all of the reports of the Family Violence Death Review Committee.
- Implement an integrated response to domestic violence modelled on that of the Victorian Government which has made a sustained effort to ensure that departments, agencies and service providers both within and outside government work together.
- Introduce comprehensive education programmes in both primary and secondary schools to teach boys respect for women and girls, educate boys about alternatives to violence and teach them to value gender equality.
- Introduce education programmes in schools to teach girls about intimate partner violence and the warning signs of power and control by male partners.
- Provide specific resources to the Ministry of Social Development to support women and children to escape permanently from violent relationships, instead of being forced to remain in or return to violent situations because of financial constraints.
- Extend the Safer Homes in New Zealand Everyday programme throughout Aotearoa so that domestic violence victims and their children can remain in their homes.
- Provide specific education to judges and lawyers about the Court of Appeal’s decision in Surrey v Surrey  NZFLR 1 and ensure that the correct test of “necessity” under section 14(1) of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 is applied in relation to protection order applications.
- Family Violence Courts are to cease applying a therapeutic approach to domestic violence and instead focus on the safety of women and children.
- Amend the Care of Children Act 2004 to specify that domestic violence is a key factor in determining the welfare and best interests of children and reinstate the recently-repealed sections providing that there should be no unsupervised contact with children when there has been domestic violence.
- Amend the Care of Children Act 2004 to state that the two most important factors for children’s well-being post-separation are maintaining their relationships with their primary caregivers and minimising their exposure to inter-parental conflict; to provide that an assumption of shared parenting is not New Zealand law; and to state that all allegations of domestic violence are to be treated seriously and to be investigated, rather than being dismissed as examples of “parental alienation” by mothers making the allegations.
- Provide adequate, permanent and sustainable funding for sexual violence and domestic violence services.
- Provide adequate funding for immediate access to counselling by women and child survivors of domestic violence and conduct research into the effectiveness of stopping violence programmes provided to male perpetrators of domestic violence.
- Provide permanent, adequate funding to Women’s Refuges throughout Aotearoa.
- Provide women-only mental health services for women with mental health and drug and alcohol issues relating to domestic violence.
- Fully implement by 2017 all of the recommendations of the Ministry of Justice’s report Te Toiora Mata Tauherenga, Report of the Taskforce on Sexual Violence 2009.
- Action by 2017 all of the recommendations in From “Real Rape” to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand and provide the Law Commission with resources to complete its work on alternative trial processes, with a commitment from political parties to implement the recommendations of the final report by 2017.
- Reinstate six free counselling sessions through the Family Court to ensure that as many cases as possible concerning contact with children and which do not involve domestic violence are resolved at an early stage and by way of decisions of the parents, rather than by judges imposing decisions.
- Reverse legal aid cuts and ensure that legal aid is available to those on low incomes and require the Ministry of Justice to prepare and implement a plan to ensure that lawyers and legal aid are available to domestic violence victims throughout Aotearoa.
- Introduce a universal basic income by 2020 and, in the interim, increase the level of benefit support provided to single parents to a sustainable level by reversing the 1991 benefit cuts, tying benefits to a figure which covers a basket of basic needs as is the case in Sweden, and indexing payments to wages.
- Amend the Social Security Act 1964 to provide that its primary objective is to provide a liveable income to those who are not in work, with a “liveable income” being defined as one which enables an individual or family to provide for all the necessities of life and to participate fully in the community.
- Amend the Social Security Act 1964 to make the welfare and best interests of children a primary consideration in developing and administering laws and policies relating to benefits.
- Carry out an independent and comprehensive review of the way in which the Ministry of Social Development, through Work and Income New Zealand, administers benefits and provide detailed recommendations for changes to ensure that all benefit recipients receive the full entitlements provided by law and are treated with dignity and respect at all times and that staff failing to provide full benefit entitlements to recipients are sanctioned.
- The investigation and prosecution of alleged benefit fraud is to be placed in the hands of an independent Commissioner and the Ministry of Social Development is to be required to reimburse people on benefits when their benefits have been unlawfully stopped or reduced.
- Amend the law to provide that mothers are not to be imprisoned following convictions for benefit fraud.
- Review benefit abatement rates and alter them so that high marginal tax rates no longer apply for people on benefits moving into paid employment.
- Abolish the Ministry of Social Development’s Benefit Review Committees and establish a fully independent process for reviewing the ministry’s decisions.
- Insert into the Social Security Act 1964 a legal presumption that mothers receiving benefits and who are convicted of benefit fraud will not be required to repay the sum if this would take longer than 12 months, thereby recognising that very large debts prevent the women from moving into the workforce and in fact penalise children as much – or more – than mothers.
- Encourage women on benefits to study and provide financial support for them to gain qualifications, rather than cutting benefits for mothers who engage in study.
- Extend paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks and increase payment levels to 100 per cent of the average male wage.
- Implement pay equity and commit to abolishing the gender pay gap by 2020, with the Living Wage to be implemented immediately for all workers and a Pay and Employment Equity Commission to be established.
- Require all organisations applying for and obtaining government contracts to have in place policies to promote diversity in their workplaces and to ensure that their organisations have 50 per cent female leaders by 2020.
- Ensure that flexible working hours are actually available in reality to parents in the workforce and that parents who make use of flexible working hours do not suffer discrimination and lack of promotion.
- Conduct a comprehensive survey of New Zealand workplaces to provide statistics about the numbers of male and female leaders in workplaces and develop and implement a detailed strategy to significantly increase the number of female leaders in the workplace by 2020 and to remove barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace.
- Provide funding to extend the availability of safe and high-quality childcare.
- Research and implement detailed steps to encourage child-friendly workplaces.
- Make full employment Aotearoa’s key goal and take steps to ensure that workers have permanent, full time work by halting the on-going casualisation of the workforce.
- Provide funding for women to complete apprenticeships and introduce incentives to encourage women into male-dominated industries.
- Abolish the 90 day trial period and youth wages.
- Offer education and mentoring to women seeking to establish their own businesses.
- Introduce a Universal Child Benefit, comprising a non-income tested, non-transferable payment made to the primary caregiver.
- Extend the Working For Families package to all families, regardless of whether or not the parents are in paid work.
- Provide support to parents in the first year of a child’s life, including making additional funding available to Plunket to ensure that all children can be visited regularly in the first year of their lives.
- Provide funding to for counselling and single mothers’ support groups.
- Ensure that parenting is recognised as an important and demanding job and recognise the contribution that single parents make to Aotearoa, including by an education campaign to inform the public about the difficulties faced by single parents and the way in which public stigma undermines their role and makes their lives more difficult.
- Do not separate mothers and babies when jail terms are being considered for women convicted of offences.
- Extend education programmes for mothers in schools.
- Reverse the changes to child support laws which were due to be implemented on 1 April 2014 and have now been delayed until 1 April 2015.
- Make the provision of adequate, healthy housing for all New Zealanders a government priority, including by introducing a legal requirement for all rental houses to have warrants of fitness and providing funding for inspections to ensure that this law is complied with.
- Draw up and then implement a detailed plan setting out how to provide enough houses and make them financially affordable so that all New Zealand families have a realistic prospect of purchasing their own homes.
- Provide funding for hui of wahine Maori throughout Aotearoa to discuss and decide priorities and implement an information programme about Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
- Conduct research into the disadvantage of wahine Maori and draw up a detailed plan to address it.
- Require all government agencies and those receiving funding from the Government to give priority to measures to improve the position of wahine Maori.
- Research and implement measures to address the discrimination suffered by wahine Maori through their reduced benefit from national superannuation due to their shorter life expectancy.
Immigrant and refugee women
- Provide adequate funding to Shakti and other organisations which provide support to immigrant and refugee women.
- Increase funding for English language and other courses aimed at assisting immigrant and refugee women to settle in Aotearoa and abolish barriers to their participation in the workforce., as well as ensuring that benefit support is readily available to immigrant and refugee women.
- Enact legislation to protect women and children from forced and underage marriage and strengthen legal protection for women coming to New Zealand via male sponsorship and who are then abused either in the workplace or in marriages and relationships.
- Implement a public education programme to provide information about the difficulties faced by immigrant and refugee women both before and after they arrive in Aotearoa and to overcome prejudice from New Zealanders towards migrants.
- Amend the Immigration Act 2009 by inserting a section stating that the welfare and best interests of the children are to be treated as the paramount considerations in immigration cases involving children and introduce a legal requirement that mothers and children are not to be separated by immigration or refugee decisions – for example, that a mother who does not hold New Zealand citizenship is not to be returned to her country of origin when she has children who are legally entitled to remain in Aotearoa.
- Increase Aotearoa’s refugee quota from 750 to 1500 a year, ensure that the quota is filled every year and give priority to providing asylum to women and children.
- Reverse the 2006 law change which provided that children born in Aotearoa do not become citizens at birth.
- Withdraw the Government’s one general and two specific reservations to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and implement all obligations under the convention.
- Follow the examples of more than 100 other nations and introduce specific measures to increase the number of female MPs from the current 34 per cent to 50 per cent by 2020 and ensure that the level of female representation in the House remains permanently at 50 per cent.
- Review the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ funding to ensure it is adequate and implement measures to enhance its visibility and status and to ensure that all government agencies consult it during policy development and are required to implement its recommendations.
Health and reproduction
- Create a Bill of Reproductive Rights.
- Decriminalise abortion.
- Provide free contraception.
- Provide radiotherapy for breast cancer within 12 weeks of surgery.
- Implement the recommendations of the Report of the Ministerial Inquiry into the Under-Reporting of Cervical Smear Abnormalities in the Gisborne Region.
- Improve access to family planning and sexual health services and prepare an Infertility Prevention Plan.
- Improve access to mental health services for women and girls and conduct research into the high levels of anti-depressants prescribed to women to ascertain whether these are being prescribed as a “quick fix” by busy doctors and what alternatives would be preferable.
- Create a New Zealand Co-ordinating Group on Women and Sport and set up a Women in Leadership Development Programme to address the low numbers of women in senior sporting administrative roles and ensure that 50 per cent of sports funding at all levels of sport from local areas to High Performance Sport New Zealand goes to sportswomen.
- Provide funding matching that paid to the Rugby World Cup 2011 and America’s Cup teams to women’s sport to ensure that female sports players have the same opportunities and support to develop skills and sports-based careers as do their male counterparts.
- Set a target of 50 per cent female judges at all levels of the court system by 2020 and draw up and implement a plan to achieve this.
- Set a target of 50 per cent female board members by 2020 and draw up and implement a plan to achieve this.
- Introduce a legal requirement that 50 per cent of chief executives in government agencies be women by 2020.
- The Government is to sign and ratify the protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Enact legislation modelled on the United Kingdom’s Disability Discrimination Act to protect disabled women.
- Include schools in the New Zealand Disability Strategy and provide them with proper resources to educate disabled children.
- Introduce employment initiatives to encourage employers to employ disabled women.
- Implement an affirmative action/access plan to provide more opportunities for disabled women to participate fully in society.
- Establish a Disability Issues Commission and ensure that all domestic violence and sexual violence services are fully accessible to disabled women and that staff are trained to work with the issues presented by disabled women.
- Implement initiatives to provide security for disabled women.
- Ensure that all new houses, buildings and means of transport fully comply with disability access requirements.
- Provide funding and other support for advocacy services for disabled women to ensure they have sufficient resources to participate fully in the community.
- Amend the law to provide that lesbian women have the same rights to adopt children and to have the day-to-day care of children as do heterosexual people.
Credit and financial literacy
- Use Kiwibank to provide funding and support for microfinance schemes such as the Angel Fund to offer affordable loans to women throughout Aotearoa, thereby keeping them out of the hands of loan sharks and enabling them to access financial support when they seek to return to the workforce.
- Provide comprehensive financial education programmes to women throughout Aotearoa to ensure that they can manage their financial affairs, and in particular to inform them of the dangers of signing up as guarantors to husbands’ or partners’ loans.
- Establish a government-run scheme enabling women to buy cheap and reliable cars financed by way of microfinance.
- Amend the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 to provide that interest of no more than 20 per cent may be charged on loans in Aotearoa and draft regulations strictly limiting the fees which can be charged on all types of loans.
Media and internet
- Toughen laws aimed at preventing online pornography, sexual grooming of children, bullying and harassment.
- Establish courses to educate women about the internet and to encourage more women to pursue careers in the IT industry.
- Require film and television producers receiving funding from government agencies to employ 50 per cent women in their productions and ensure that 50 per cent of characters, including main characters, are female. The taxpayer funding provided to subsidise major films made in Aotearoa in recent years has almost exclusively benefited men, with the movies employing male producers and directors and the characters being almost exclusively male.
- Prepare and implement a plan to reduce violence on television.
- Decline funding for films, books, movies and other forms of entertainment which portray and encourage misogynistic attitudes.
- Abolish sow stalls, battery cages and all intensive farming in New Zealand by 2020 to end the torture suffered by female animals and implement a Declaration of Sentience in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to recognise in law that animals are sentient beings and not objects.
- Implement the recommendations arising from all periodic reviews of Aotearoa’s implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
Funding the Women’s Election Agenda Aotearoa 2014
- Increase the top tax rate to 39 per cent and do not provide any more tax cuts for the wealthy.
Introduce a capital gains tax on property and abolish tax exemptions for family trusts to ensure that the wealthy pay their share of taxes and to provide funding for the Women’s Election Agenda Aotearoa 2014 and programmes for the economically disadvantaged.