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Lyne Pillay: Women in Armed Forces Bill

6 September 2006

First reading: Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill

Madam Speaker I move that the Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.

Madam Speaker at the appropriate time I intend to move that the Bill be considered by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee.

I am proud to bring this Bill before this House. New Zealand has an impressive record of advocacy and recognition of women. Indeed New Zealand was the first country where women achieved the right to vote. I will add that this did not happen by chance and I want to acknowledge all those visionary women who campaigned tirelessly and passionately to make it happen – they were true leaders.

It seems appropriate that this legislation is introduced in 2006 – the Year of the Veteran – I know that my Labour Colleagues like me have found it both an honour and a privilege to join with our local RSAs in commemorating the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families in the service of our country.

This H falls under three Ministerial portfolios – Women’s Affairs, Justice and Defence. I want to thank Ministers Lianne Dalziel, Mark Burton and Phil Goff for their support and assistance in preparing the Bill.

This Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Human Rights Act in order to remove an exemption for sexual discrimination in employment matters that applies to the Armed Forces.

At present section 33 of the Human Rights Act states:

Nothing in section 22 of this Act shall prevent preferential treatment based on sex being given within the Armed Forces to any member of those forces who has the duty of serving in an active combat role in those forces.

In effect the exemption allows the NZ Defence Force to discriminate against women regarding their employment in active combat roles.

At the time the Act was enacted the New Zealand Defence Force had a policy of not allowing women to serve in combat roles. However, that policy was formally rescinded by the Defence Force in the year 2000. Accordingly, section 33 of the Act no longer reflects current policy or practice in the New Zealand Defence Force.

New Zealand maintains a reservation to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with respect to the service of women in the Armed Forces. This is New Zealand’s only remaining reservation to CEDAW.

CEDAW has urged New Zealand to expedite the steps necessary to comply with the CEDAW Convention. This amendment to the Act will enable New Zealand to fully ratify its international obligations.

This Bill will build on and validate the career options for women who have progressed significantly since the integration of women into the New Zealand Armed Forces in 1977.

Before that time women’s opportunities within the New Zealand Defence Force were extremely limited. They were paid less for equal work and officers had a separate rank structure.

In practice Madam Speaker women were paid at only 80 per cent of the pay scales for men performing the same job. A 1961 exercise to align women’s trades across the three services was prompted by the 1960 Government Service Equal Pay Act, but while the trades were aligned, women were still paid at 80 per cent on the basis that they were not as effective.

On their integration into the three Services, women received pay rises of up to $1800 per year. Joint recruitment courses started immediately but few women chose to enter the traditionally male dominated trades.

Integration was not simply about pay scales and opportunities but also about inequitable conditions of service. Before integration women could be discharged for getting married. A further significant law passed in 1979, the Maternity Leave and Employment Protection Act, protected women from being discharged simply because they were pregnant.

From that period legislation and policy changes have continued to improve conditions, career opportunities and status for women serving in the New Zealand Defence Force. These include:

Statement by Government Employing Authorities on Equal Employment opportunities in 1984;

Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act in 1987;

State Sector Act which embedded the Government’s commitment to Equal Employment Opportunities in 1988.

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act in 1990 and the Human Rights Act and Privacy Act in 1993;

The Report of the Review of Good Working Relationships in the Defence Force in 1995;

The NZ Defence Force published both an Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) policy and a harassment and discrimination prevention policy that were applicable to both military personnel and civil staff in 1997;

In 1998 the Human Rights Commission was contracted to carry out a Gender Integration Audit of the defence force resulting in real progress in the recruitment and retention of women. A repeat survey of good working relationships in 2001 measured progress towards eliminating harassment and discrimination and a more robust EEO policy was adopted.

Paid Parental Leave was introduced in 2002 and has had a profound effect on the working life of Women in the Defence Force who can now, like all New Zealand women, enjoy 14 weeks caring for their new born with the security of financial assistance.

Madam Speaker these changes led to women’s participation in New Zealand Armed Forces increasing from 977 in 1977 to 1668 in 2002; on current trends, the percentage of women in both commissioned and non-commissioned ranks may reach as high as 20 per cent in the next ten years.

Over the last 28 years, women have endured and enjoyed deployment to some of the harshest operational environments alongside their male colleagues. They have proven themselves to be the equal of any challenge placed before them. Some have been recognised for specific achievements, but many have simply got on and done the job in a thoroughly professional manner, bringing credit upon themselves and the New Zealand Defence Force.

Today’s women are close to achieving full integration into all trades and occupations including combat trades.

Women serving in the New Zealand Defence Force in 2005 can expect to have opportunities to progress their careers to heights that the women serving in 1977 could only have dreamed of, but never have hoped to achieve. They enjoy working in a demanding and rewarding environment, which offers opportunities for training, development and experience that few other employers in New Zealand can provide. Their contribution is invaluable.

This Labour-led government has a commitment to upholding and advancing human rights. We pride ourselves on our belief in a society where discrimination on gender is a thing of the past.

Madam Speaker it is my strong recommendation that all parties support this legislation to enable New Zealand to continue its proud tradition and ratify its obligations to CEDAW.

ENDS

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