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HRC calls for nd to women's combat exemption

Human Rights Commission

07 December 2006

Commission calls for end to women's combat exemption

The exemption relating to women in armed combat in the Human Rights Act 1993 should be removed, EEO Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor told the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee today.

Dr McGregor said that section 33 of the Human Rights Act allowing preferential treatment based on sex in the armed forces relating to those serving in an active combat role was outdated.

"It is difficult to see what the purpose is of retaining the exemption which perpetuates existing stereotypical assumptions about the roles of men and women in the military."

Repealing the act (s 33) will remove the last remaining obstacle to withdrawing the reservations to the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

"We strongly support the Human Rights (Women in the Armed Forces) Amendment Bill which will promote equal employment opportunities, allow women full citizenship status and demonstrate diversity. It also allows New Zealand to enhance its reputation for ratification and implementation of major international conventions."

"The good news is the New Zealand Defence Force itself has for some years not allowed preferential treatment based on sex. In a 2000 directive the then Chief of Defence Force rescinded its policy of not allowing women to serve in combat roles. The directive noted that while s 33 allowed preferential treatment it would not be used to allow the services to adopt a 'more inclusive approach in the employment of women in combat roles'."

Section 33 is not an outright prohibition on women serving in combat roles but rather allows men to be preferred in certain situations. Its repeal is both "necessary and desirable and will help make the armed forces more accessible to women", Dr McGregor said.

When the CEDAW Monitoring Committee commented on New Zealand's fifth report it noted with appreciation the stated intention to consider lifting its reservation to Article 11(a) regarding women in armed combat in 2005 and went on to urge New Zealand to "expedite the steps necessary for the withdrawal of its remaining reservation to the Convention."

ENDS

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