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Beijing + 5 Special Session Speech Liz Gordon




JUNE 8 2000

Mr President
Excellencies and distinguished delegates.

It is an honour to address this Special Session of the General Assembly on an issue as important to the Government of New Zealand as gender equality, development and peace for our new Century.

We welcome this opportunity to affirm our commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as the fundamental blueprint for the achievement of women’s equality.

Through review and appraisal of our efforts since Beijing we can see where progress has been made. We can also see where obstacles have prevented us from moving forward, and use our collective knowledge and creativity to find strategies for overcoming these.

Mr President

In many areas there has been significant progress for women around the world since Beijing and Nairobi before it. The efforts of governments, UN agencies, regional and international organisations, non-governmental organisations and civil society in general to implement the Platform have had real results in improving the status of women.

But it is equally clear we have a long way to go. Women continue to suffer discrimination because of their gender. They suffer disproportionately from the effects of poverty and armed conflict. They continue to encounter barriers to justice and the enjoyment of their human rights because of such factors as their race, age, language, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status, or status as indigenous people, migrants, displaced people or refugees.

Building on our commitments at Beijing, and what we have learned since then, we must continue to set new goals and identify new measures for women’s equality and empowerment. Where new factors affect women’s equality and attainment of the full realisation of their human rights have emerged, the same commitment and creativity must be applied to addressing these.

New Zealand remains committed to the protection and promotion of women’s rights as human rights, and its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In particular, the New Zealand Government has expressed its intention to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, which will be a key tool for women in fully realising their human rights. The CEDAW Convention provides the underlying legal framework for achieving the goals of Beijing. We urge those states that have not ratified the Convention to do so.

In encouraging gender equity, it is important that nation states are just as honest about the challenges they face as their successes. Only this way will government and international institutions find solutions which take fully into account the effects of these policies on women.

Since 1995, New Zealand has continued to undergo significant social and economic changes, which have continued to impact on the status and development potential of women, and especially women who face more than one form of disadvantage.

New Zealand's commitment to ending remaining gender-based discrimination and promoting the rights of women remains high on the Government’s agenda. In particular, attention is being given to achieving women’s economic independence as a basis for empowering women in all areas where equality is yet to be achieved.

Working women in New Zealand earn around 80% of the average male wage. The gender pay gap appears to be widening for female graduates, a trend that coincides with an increase in women's participation in tertiary education. Although the pay gap has narrowed for the lowest paid, this relates to men's wages falling, rather than women's wages rising.

In one crucial area the gender pay gap has closed. Our parliament has a woman Prime Minister, a woman Leader of the Opposition, ten female Ministers and a total of 30% of our elected representatives are women, not to mention the Chief Justice of New Zealand. Women thus now play key leadership roles. Nevertheless there remain in place policies which may appear equal, but which have unequal effects for women.

One example is that while our legislation provides for the equal division of matrimonial property, in its application it has proved inadequate in recognising the unvalued contributions of women to a relationship. My Government is currently addressing this issue, as well as that of ensuring equitable property settlements in the dissolution of de facto and same sex relationships.

A further example is that student loans cost women more than men as a result of womens’ pay differential with men. Although they may borrow the same amount, women take longer to pay off their loans than men, and thus pay more interest.

Like all developed nations New Zealand's economy relies heavily on women's participation on a productive and reproductive level, both in paid employment and as mothers. The New Zealand Government is committed to EEO legislation that provides a framework which enables women to achieve their full potential as citizens, and discussions are underway in order to institute a new system of paid parental leave.

Increasing awareness and more concerted action to address violence against women as a violation of their human rights has been a key success since Beijing. Whether it is violence within the home, as is 80% of violence in New Zealand, or that associated with armed conflict, the underlying social and economic causes must be addressed if we are to find real solutions.

It is women and children who bear the brunt of violent conflict. Women are left to deal with the consequences of battles which they often have no part in conducting. Despite this, they are often deprived of a place at the peace-table and a decision making role in post-conflict reconstruction.

More must be done to recognise the role of women as peace-makers. In our own region women took a leading role in bringing to a close nine years of secessionist conflict on the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.

We welcome the adoption of the Rome Statute for the establishment of an International Criminal Court which recognises gender-related crimes as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Legislation is currently before the New Zealand parliament to enable us to ratify the Statute.

The Platform also provides for action to address the particular needs and situation of indigenous women around the world. The New Zealand Government is committed to looking at ways to close the social and economic gaps between Maori, who are the indigenous people of New Zealand, and non-Maori women, and minimising the risk of further gaps developing. The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, is leading this work.

Maori women have over time felt the impact of economic restructuring of the industries and occupations they work in.

A decline in job opportunities for Maori women and increased responsibilities as one-parent families have combined to limit Maori women's access to employment, with a consequent impact on the socio-economic status of Maori women and their communities.

Many Maori women have sought their own economic empowerment through a range of small and medium enterprises, run their own businesses, and take an increasing part in professions including the law, medicine and training.

The government is also driving a regional approach to economic development and job creation in New Zealand. This process will rely on the input and expertise of women from all ethnic and social backgrounds, and will ensure that the end result truly reflects the broad needs of the entire community.

Finally, New Zealand welcomes the positive contribution the Commonwealth is making towards advancing the role of women, including through the Commonwealth Plan of Action update.

My government looks forward to hosting a Commonwealth South Pacific Symposium on Gender, Politics and Peace-building later this month. It will be another example of the Commonwealth's role in furthering, among other things, women's involvement in politics and conflict resolution.

At the beginning of the Millennium we need to take stock of our efforts to date, and find new and innovative ways of working together in partnerships to achieve the full equality of women and harness their contribution towards peace and development for the twenty-first century.

Thank you.

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