The status of women in New Zealand: A summary of findings and independent working report

Here is a report by Renee Gerlich, a foremost New Zealand writer on women’s oppression, with factual up-to-date advance on the piece Jill Brasell wrote some years ago.


This report gathers findings from a range of sources, as well as including anecdotal material on unresearched aspects of women’s status in New Zealand, to paint an overall picture of the more urgent aspects of women’s status and encourage readers to make critical connections.

Male violence against women

“Intimate partner” violence

In the seven years from 2009 – 2015, there were 92 deaths caused by intimate partner violence in New Zealand. 63 women and 29 men were killed. 70 offenders were male, and 22 female. The gendered nature of this violence does not stop at these numbers, because 83 cases involved a recorded history of abuse. In 82 of those, women were the primary victim. In 67 cases those women were killed, and in 16 cases they killed in self defense.

Source: Family Violence Death Review Committee report, 2015.

There were 33,209 domestic violence incidents in the fiscal year 2014-15 – this being the number of referrals police requested that Women’s Refuge follow up. Out of the 16,507 women and children that required Women’s Refuge services in the year ending March 2015, 42% were Māori women.

Source: Women’s Refuge Annual Report 2014-15

In 2016, 5,461 applications were made for protection orders in New Zealand. 5,072 (89%) were made by women and 550 (10%) by men.

Source: Family Violence Clearinghouse report

Sexual violence

90% of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim/survivor.

In New Zealand, up to one in three girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16 years. The majority of those incidences would be considered serious, with over 70% involving genital contact.

In New Zealand, up to one in five women will experience sexual assault as an adult.

For Maori girls and women the likelihood of sexual violence is nearly twice as high as the general population. Pacific and migrant women are also at statistically greater risk of sexual violence.

Repeat sexual violence is a serious issue, with over 25% of adults in victimisation surveys reporting more than one incident, and qualitative research finding that survivors with a history of repeat victimisation are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and have high and complex needs. For women, experiencing child sexual abuse increases the likelihood of revictimisation in adulthood of both intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

Source: Rape Prevention Education


New Zealand has the fifth worst child abuse record out of 31 OECD countries.

Source: Rape Prevention Education


In New Zealand, approximately 54% of child abusers are known to use pornography.

Source: The Backbone Collective’s report on children in the Family Court, Seen and Not Heard, 2017.

This appears to be a conservative estimate, especially since Pornhub’s 2015 market research lists New Zealanders as the fifth most regular online porn watchers, behind the American, British, Canadian and Irish users.

Source: New Zealand Herald

The Backbone Collective state that this porn use should be considered a “red flag for the Family Court”. Leaving pornography out so that children can see it, and masturbating in view of children are two associated forms of abuse that male child abusers in New Zealand are engaging in, that the Backbone Collective names.

Source: The Backbone Collective’s report on children in the Family Court, Seen and Not Heard, 2017.


Pornography drives sexual abuse because pornography depicts sexual abuse. Specifically, pornography records and depicts the abuse of prostitution, which in New Zealand, has been fully decriminalised since 2003.

It was estimated in 2006 that there were 2,400 prostituted persons in New Zealand. This includes 377 in Wellington (with the Hutt Valley and Porirua).

Source: Christchurch School of Medicine study, 2006

These figures are grossly conservative, being drawn only from newspaper-based business and advertising surveys carried out in the Auckland, Wellington, Nelson and Hawke’s Bay regions as well as Christchurch. All the other regions are excluded, as are those prostituted in unregistered brothels, using the Internet, or as minors or on visitor or holiday visas. Plus, the number is likely to have increased given the steady rise in prostitution promotion in New Zealand since 2006, and particularly since around 2012.

At least five prostituted women have been murdered in New Zealand since the Prostitution Reform Act fully decriminalised pimps and punters in 2003.

Source, and further information: Feminist Current

The organisation tasked with taking care of women in prostitution, through $1.1 million per annum in Ministry of Health funding, is the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective (NZPC). The NZPC is a member of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) – and according to NSWP, “sex workers” can include “employers”, or pimps. The NZPC are currently trying to remove Section 19 from from the Prostitution Reform Act, the section of the Act that effectively criminalises overseas sex trafficking.

The advice NZPC offers women in its manual Stepping Forward, in terms of “dealing with violent clients” is to

Make as much noise as possible to attract attention. Try calling FIRE, a passerby will probably pay more attention. If you wear a whistle around your neck, blow it in his ear.

NZPC later says that “getting loud” can “backfire because some clients are just wanting you to do this so that they have an excuse”.

There are currently few designated services, and no designated safehouses, for women seeking to exit prostitution in New Zealand. Many women find it difficult or impossible to permanently exit the industry.

See this link for a more comprehensive take on prostitution in New Zealand.


Justice system and human rights organisations

While one in three New Zealand women are sexually assaulted in our lifetimes, an estimated 9% of incidents ever reported to police. 13% of cases recorded by the police result in conviction.

Source: Rape Prevention Education


In March 2018, there were 809 women in New Zealand prisons, compared with 672 in September 2016 and 511 in September 2012. Over the course of 2017, 848 women were sentenced – more than the total women’s prison population.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Between April 2016 and March 2017, 927 women were sentenced compared to 8,274 men.

345 women were sentenced for theft, fraud, robbery or extortion – these offences making up 37% of women’s sentencing. For men, the same offences made up 18% of sentences.

Women were sentenced 9 times for homicide, and 3 times for sexual assault.

Men were sentenced 57 times for homicide and 423 times for sexual assault.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

The August 1997 report Women in the Criminal Justice System (Kerr, McDonald and Young) notes that

Women do not offend as often as men, and tend to offend in different ways and for different reasons. Young woman defendants tend to commit minor offences (shoplifting and cheque fraud) and may be lead into offending by a male partner. Women drug abusers may offend to maintain the habit but also to provide for their children. Women usually only resort to serious violence in response to prolonged abuse, or to protect their children… Women do… commit benefit fraud in relatively high numbers, which probably reflects the position of women as the primary care-taker in most families. Benefit fraud [can] also be committed by women because of real need, coercion by their partners or an absence of support by them.

Both the Family Violence Death Review Committee report, 2015; and Women in the Criminal Justice System 1997 report show that women kill largely in self defense after a pattern of prolonged abuse. Both note that the riskiest time for a woman is during and after separation from a relationship (Kerr et al note three months after separation as the riskiest time for women).

Kerr et al further note that women who kill in self defense are left to prove their claims are “reasonable” in a court system that generally fails to hold perpetrators of sexual violence or violence against women to account. For self defense to be proven, “First there must be an identifiable provocative act which occurs immediately before the killing. Secondly, the killing must occur while the offender is in the heat of passion.” Yet, as Kerr et al write, “In the case of battered women who kill their abusers, there will normally not be one sufficiently provocative “act”.” The law is not good at accounting for the vulnerable position of women or their histories of abuse as “cumulative provocation” that leads women to fear for their own lives and act in self defense.

Source: Kerr et al, Women in the Criminal Justice System, 1997 

In New Zealand have revealed that there are currently approximately thirty-three trans-identified males in New Zealand prisons in total. Eighteen are in for violent crimes, including sexual assault. Seven are in women’s prisons already. In 2017 alone, four assaults were reported against women by trans-identified persons in women’s prisons.

Source: Corrections, Official Information Act requests 

Family Courts

Women report serious negative outcomes from being involved with the New Zealand Family Court. Even though they go to the Family Court after separating from an abuser, many regret ever doing so. “For these women, the Family Court has become the new abuser and many have told us it is worse than the abuser.”

Source: Backbone Collective, Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire: Women’s experiences of the New Zealand Family Court, 2017 report

Out of 500 women surveyed by the Backbone Collective, 83% reported that the Family Court treated their abuser as “safe”. 155 women said the Family Court had forced their child/ren to spend time with the abuser. All of these women were worried about their child’s safety.

Source: Backbone Collective, Out of the Frying Pan 2017 report

233 out of 500 women were wrongly accused of being mentally unwell or unstable in Family Court proceedings, and a large number were wrongly accused of lying and/or exaggerating the abuse, of being crazy or deliberately destroying a child’s relationship with the abusive parent and doing this as revenge.

Source: Backbone Collective, Out of the Frying Pan 2017 report

The environment of the Family Court can place women and children in greater danger. 58% (243) of survey participants told the Backbone Collective they had been threatened, intimidated, or physically assaulted by their abuser while attending court-related appointments/fixtures or hearings.

Source: Backbone Collective, Out of the Frying Pan 2017 report


Economic status of women in New Zealand


Globally, it is acknowledged that prostitution is often entered by women as an alternative to homelessness. At least half of the 34,000+ New Zealanders who suffer severe housing deprivation are women, and more vulnerable than their male counterparts.

Wellington Women’s Boarding House accommodates sixteen women at a time, and is usually full; Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust houses an additional five. When it comes to the housing market, according to BRANZ, 44% of New Zealand’s rental housing is in poor condition, and if women apply for private rentals, poverty alongside housing shortages and discrimination would mean very slim pickings among ‘paper walls’.

The most common reason prostituted women state for entering the sex trade is financial, and surveys suggest 72% of those in the industry are stuck there due to circumstance.

A note that it would be a mistake to conclude from this that poverty and not demand is the cause of prostitution, as Kat Banyard writes in Pimp State: “blindly asserting that poverty is the singular cause of the prostitution trade fails to acknowledge that men’s poverty has not begot a global demand from women to pay them for sex acts, [and] that without men’s demand there would be no trade at all.”

See more here.

It is noteworthy that the organisation in New Zealand most concerned with women’s poverty is called Child Poverty Action Group, excluding women from its title.


5.5% of women are unemployed in New Zealand, compared to 4.8% of males.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

The current “pay gap” between men and women in New Zealand is considered to be at 12.7% despite the fact that more women are attaining higher levels of education than men in New Zealand, but accounting for other variables and forms of discrimination.
Occupational segregation is estimated to account for around 30 percent of the gender pay gap.

Source: Ministry for Women

Women are much more likely than men to be employed in caring professions such as nursing, teaching, and social work; clerical, administrative and sales occupations; and lower-skilled service work, like personal care and hospitality. We are less likely to be employed in higher managerial positions in the private sector, technical professions like architecture, or engineering; farming; police and armed forces, trades and lower-skilled manual jobs like labouring and machine operating.

Source: Statistics New Zealand


Women make up 72% of New Zealand’s teaching staff.

Source: Ministry of Education

Teachers typically top up their own inadequate classroom budgets, pouring 8 million dollars annually back into public education.

Source: New Zealand Education Institute


92% of all nursing staff, including registered and nurse practitioners are women; among only enrolled nurses, 96% were female in 2015.

Source: Nursing Council

Both teachers (14 August) and nurses (12 July) have gone on strike in 2018 complaining of being overworked and understaffed. In support of the nurses’ strike, registered nurse Danni Wilkinson said, “We’re not asking to be millionaires, we’re asking to be able to afford to live where we can take care of the patient population.”


On May 3, midwives marched to parliament. to protest pay as low as $7 an hour, with some reporting that they had not had a pay rise in over 17 years.

The average take-home hourly income for rural midwives is $7.23; for urban midwives $12.80. “Midwives are leaving the profession because of this and then women lose access to maternity care.”

Source: Siobhan Connor, Wellington Region of the College of Midwives chairwoman

Abortion providers

Abortion is still in the Crimes Act in New Zealand. Since 1988, 32 people have been charged with procuring abortion. Of those, 12 were convicted.

Source: Vice

Women’s Refuge

In the fiscal year 2014-15, the New Zealand police requested Women’s Refuge follow up 33,209 domestic violence incidents. Women’s Refuge reports that it is paid for only 7% of this work.

Source: Women’s Refuge Annual Report 2014-15


Rape culture

Prostitution promotion in media

Mainstream media capitalises from pornographic objectification. In New Zealand, that now also means the promotion of prostitution as “sex work” in line with NZPC objectives. The New Zealand Herald promotes “sex work” regularly. The Dominion Post has refused to publish critical material. Radio New Zealand and liberal outlet The Spinoff also promote “sex work” relatively regularly, without publishing critical perspectives. Scoop News, which markets itself as leftist “independent media” has tentatively published a small number of articles that are critical of prostitution. Some of my own work was subsequently surreptitiously deleted, due to backlash.

For more on these trends, follow this link.

My own experiences testify to the extent of prostitution promotion in New Zealand and the resulting censorship of women. The sex trade lobby has become a loud voice effective in bullying any outlet into fixing a policy in place of not airing critical perspectives on prostitution. This makes for unchecked and escalating promotion of the sex trade, both to male punters and to females as legitimate “work”.

  • In 2016, I was banned from the Wellington Zinefest for being critical of both prostitution and gender identity ideology on this blog.
  • In 2017, I held an exhibition at Thistle Hall that sex trade lobbyists attempted to shut down. I had constant support inside the space and security cameras in place in case of assault.
  • In 2018, an Access Radio presenter scheduled an interview with me on prostitution and received a warning from the station manager for doing so.

In 2017, the Women’s Studies Journal published a special issue on so-called “sex work” that was completely in favour of the sex trade lobby. All student associations in New Zealand have moved to a pro-prostitution position, and student media outlets such as Salienthave been particuarly enthusiastic about promoting prostitution to students, particularly as a viable “career” for women. This is in turn fuelling rising misogyny in student media, student associations, and on campus.

Press Council

Both Massive and Salient magazines are engaged in routine sex trade promotion, detailed on this blog previously. The Press Council, an an industry body, supports both outlets to keep this up: they dismissed a complaint about a Massive cover depicting a woman being raped from behind in 2016, and dismissed a complaint in 2017 about Salient’s five-year history of sex trade promotion without any critical balance. The Press Council is comprised of industry representatives including journalists from tabloid media.

Media and gender

Scoop News, The Herald, Dominion Post, and The Wireless have all also declined to run critical pieces on gender identity ideology despite their clearly one-sided take and despite the urgency and lack of critical perspectives available. In 2018, Radio New Zealand approached me for an interview, and I was told that the piece “simply dropped out of the system” before publishing a transcription of my own recording. In 2018, Phantom Billstickers withheld service from me by refusing to hang posters that included quotes from suffragists and the line The suffragists fought for the female sex / Stop rewriting history. This story was reported in the Sunday Star TimesOrganisations InsideOut and RainbowYouth were involved in the silencing. RainbowYouth, it should be noted, promotes breast binding among girls in schools.

Online safety

NetSafe is an organisation that was formed on the basis of the Harmful Digital Communications Act. In a 2018 Human Rights Commission dispute, NetSafe refused to take a position on sex discrimination as carried out by social media hosts like Facebook. Facebook is a partner to NetSafe that is known for its sexist decision making, but NetSafe contiues to defer to this decision making.

Government, political parties and gender

The Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration (BDMRR) Act is being reviewed this year. The Green Party proposed that one-step sex self-identification should be adopted as part of the review, meaning that men will be able to change sex markers on birth certificates to “female” with the filling out of a single form. Government announced a decision to adopt these proposals in August, despite having carried out no public consultation or impact assessments.

In August 2017, when the Lesbian Rights Alliance formed to advocate for the rights of lesbians in the face of such threats, and MP Louisa Wall used social media to target, undermine and silence the group. Such silencing is not new: Heather Murphy has also reported silencing on gender from the Labour Party on Scoop. On June 6, 2018, I replied to a formal e-mail sent from a Green Party address and I asked to be removed from the mailing list, stating why. I received a direct reply from the personal e-mail of co-convenor Maddy Drew that read “Bye bigot!” this is part of a pattern, where Green Party members also frequently also use the slur “TERF” to demonise women.

Human Rights Commission

In 2018, chief commissioner David Rutherford, of the Human Rights Commission, intentionally misrepresented the law in order to support athlete Gavin Hubbard’s position representing New Zealand in women’s weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games. In 2016, Hubbard had won the Australian international weightlifting championships, lifting 19 kilos more than Samoan silver medallist Iuniarra Sipaia.

The Human Rights Act includes articles that prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. Rutherford claims that a piece of legislation that makes an exception for sports, to allow for sex-based segregation, supported Hubbard’s position rather than any female sports team or organisation that would seek to remain female-only. The Human Rights Commission has proven that it supports men’s rights to claim to be women over women’s rights to safety and sovereignty.

Women’s organisations

Many women’s organisations are not only underfunded and overworked, but also captured by male interests. There is a growing stigma attached to the female sex in New Zealand being pushed through gender identity ideology. This ideology encourages women to think of ourselves as “uterus bearers”, to distance womanhood from sex. Such language is reductionist and dehumanising – as Rachel Moran writes in her book Paid For, a classic misogynist joke asks ‘What is a woman?’ and answers, ‘A support system for a pussy.’ Gender identity ideology encourages women to think of themselves in such reductionist terms, and has captured many women’s organisations.

  • The Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand (ALRANZ) increasingly refers to “pregnant people” rather than pregnant women in its advocacy, The ALRANZ 2018 submission on abortion law reform includes the word ‘women’ only twice, preferring “pregnant people” and “people with a uterus”.
  • Women’s Refuge now trains women with the power and control wheel that used to explain patterns of male violence and entitlement, updated to a “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Power and Control Wheel”. The inclusion of “trans” here undermines any sex-based power analysis that Women’s Refuge requires to keep women safe. This also suggests that men are now being housed with women in Women’s Refuge safehouses, and volunteers compelled to pick them up from dangerous situations. Women’s Refuge policy advisor Nathalie Thorburn is also vocally in support of gender identity ideology, the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective and prostitution. This will affect Women’s Refuge’s understanding of gender, prostitution, and power, and over time, their approach to survivors.
  • The Backbone Collective is doing fantastic work. One of the key contributors to its reports is a supporter of gender identity ideology, suggesting that the Backbone Collective too may loosen any sex-based power analysis inherent in its findings.
  • The National Council of Women is vocally in support of gender identity ideology, now claiming to represent “all genders” and claiming that this stance is true to the history of women’s suffrage. The NCW’s submission on the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill indicates that members have not been consulted on this new stance.
  • It is worth noting that Anorexia New Zealand claims that anorexia is a sex neutral issue too, even though in New Zealand in 2015, 675 females suffered from anorexia as opposed to 31 males.



The Auckland University Youth12 report showed a significant worsening of mental health in same-sex attracted females compared to opposite-sex attracted females.
Source: Youth12 report

In 2015, 675 females suffered from anorexia as opposed to 31 males – and ass opposed to 577 females in 2013.

Source: Ministry of Health, Official Information



  1. There’s plenty to think about in the figures Renee presents. I feel though what shouldn’t be ignored are the areas where men fare worse than women. Some of these are not trivial. For instance – life expectancy is 4 years less for men in NZ. Male suicide rates are much higher; and men are doing a lot more of the dirty and dangerous jobs still. They are more likely to be injured or killed at work than women. Men are also hugely over represented in prisons.

    I don’t think we can make sense of the relative position of men and women without looking at all the differences.

  2. There is a lot of worthwhile information combined here by Rene Gerlich. But there is some questionable stuff too. For instance, her assertion that in twenty-first century New Zealand there is a stigma attached to being a woman. This is simply not true; if anything, the reverse is the case.

    Although I understand her critique of forms of trans activism, and I disagree with those who attempt to shut her down and demonise her as a “terf” for those views, I think that analysis has led her to some one-sided defences. A “sex-based power analysis”, for instance, is woefully inadequate for explaining the range of social inequality, the depth of exploitation in twenty-first century NZ capitalist society and how to get rid of it. Let alone the nature of implications of NZ being not simply capitalist, but imperialist.

  3. I would not say there is a “stigma’ attached to being a woman in New Zealand today, rather that there are definitely several clear and severe ‘disadvantages’.
    There were 33,209 reported domestic violence incidents in the fiscal year 2014-15 – this being the number of referrals police requested that Women’s Refuge follow up. It’s commonly accepted that many, quite possibly a majority of the domestic violence incidents actually occuring are not reported at all. Male violence against women is a daily occurrence, men face no such equivalent. That, plus the fact that one in five women suffer rape or some serious form of sexual harassment is evidence of one sided disadvantage, which has not abated with the rise of female politicians and other public figures.

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