By Jessica Sutton and Patrick McTague.
The 2020 New Zealand election season is almost over. To date over 1.1 million early votes have been cast. And as always, major and minor political parties alike have released policies demonstrating their vision for infrastructure, energy, climate, welfare, and beyond. Yet, what we don’t tend to see in election media, is coverage of what these policies mean for gender equality and protection of women’s rights.
So, which parties are fighting for a more gender-equal New Zealand? And which parties would worsen existing inequalities? We combed the publicly available policies of New Zealand’s political parties to bring you the five parties with the biggest proposed impact for gender equality, whether positive or negative.
Labour, our current governing Party in coalition with Greens and NZ First, has a strong history of legislative change to the benefit of women. Special mention goes to the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, which recognises abortion as a health issue and not a crime, and the Equal Pay Amendment Act 2020, which provides a framework to support historically underpaid, female-dominated industries.
Labour’s 2020 election policies reflect continuing commitment to advancing female representation and economic equality. Labour promises to ensure there are “better records of pay equity across New Zealand”, particularly for teachers in education and care centres. Labour also aims to secure 50/50 representation for women and men on state sector boards by 2021.
While Labour’s policies do not specifically mention New Zealand’s shamefully high rates of gender-based violence, Labour promises to increase support for people affected by violence, including more funding for family violence services and rehabilitation programs for perpetrators of violence. Labour also acknowledges that victims of abuse and assault are often retraumatised in the court system and promises to make changes to reduce this effect, but does not identify the disproportionate impact of sexual violence on women.
Additionally, Labour has positive rainbow community policies, in particular their promises to ban conversion therapy and to establish a healthcare sector which is more responsive to the needs of transgender, intersex, and non-binary people.
Labour has made some bold changes to improve the lives of women in New Zealand, but needs to go further to centralise gender issues in its policies.
Gender equality rating: 4/5.
National is the official opposition Party, previously in government from 2008-2017. None of National’s 2020 election policies directly address gender equality. However, there are some non-specific policies which would impact the welfare of women.
The first mention of women in National’s policies is as mothers in the “First 1,000 days” policy, putting emphasis on helping mothers to care for their children. While it is important for society to support women as mothers, it’s also important to recognise that women deserve support for a full range of choices outside of motherhood.
National has policies about family violence and child abuse, but does not specifically address intimate partner violence. A key policy for National is to make non-disclosure of child abuse a crime. However, this policy risks disproportionately punishing women who do not feel safe to speak out against an abusive partner.
Health-wise, National is promising big investment into cancer screening and treatments, including $20 million over four years for gynaecological cancer. This would hopefully lead to higher treatment and survival rates for people with gynaecological cancers. This is a small part of National’s overall expansive cancer treatment policy.
National gives female welfare some attention in its policies. However, it needs to do more to identify and combat inequality, support women beyond their roles as mothers, and recognise the gendered consequences of seemingly neutral policies.
Gender equality rating: 2/5.
Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand
The Green Party is Labour’s long-time governing partner, the only other explicitly left-wing party in government, and the biggest advocate for the environment. The Greens have done significant work legislating and advocating for women in this last term with Greens MP, Julie Anne Genter, as the Minister for Women. The Greens continue this legacy in 2020 by having an entire policy section dedicated to equality for women, other sections addressing intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, as well as policies interwoven throughout to complement these.
The Greens’ cornerstone policy in this election is their Poverty Action Plan. They propose introducing new taxes to fund a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) of $325 per week for all students and people out of work, a universal child benefit of $100 per week, increased family support credit, and an additional support for single parents of $110 per week. This would make a significant difference to the financial position of women, as women continue to make up the majority of unpaid carers.
The Greens have an emphasis on violence prevention with policies on intimate partner violence, education and victim-led responses. They advocate for a new independent Victims Commissioner to represent the interests of victims in the justice system. They also want to update the Abortion Act to provide for a safe zone to protect people from harassment when seeking abortions.
Additionally, the Greens have policies to support workplace inclusion and safety, pay equity, and more flexible working environments. They also aim to remove barriers to women and other members of marginalised groups gaining employment and being promoted. These policies suggest that the Greens are working to create more opportunities for women and re-shape traditionally male-dominated workplaces.
Another special mention must go to the Greens’ rainbow community policies, not only the promise to ban conversion therapy but further policies to protect the rights of transgender and gender diverse people.
The Green Party is the clear winner for women, emphasising gender issues in its policies and taking a holistic response to addressing gender inequality.
Gender equality rating: 4.5/5.
The ACT Party is a libertarian minor party which has polled particularly highly this election season. ACT historically prioritises personal responsibility and freedom over the needs of marginalised groups. For example, while ACT supports the right to choose regarding abortion, they also successfully advocated for removal of safe zones around abortion clinics, purportedly to protect freedom of speech.
One of ACT’s policy sections is ‘Defending Freedom of Expression’, which opens with the phrase, “hate speech laws punish people on the basis of opinion”. ACT aims to remove any protection against hate speech, exposing marginalised groups to abuse which can escalate to violence. ACT also supports abolishing the Human Rights Commission, claiming the HRC’s stance against discrimination amounts to censorship.
While ACT supports some welfare aimed at women, specifically continuing Sole Parent Support which helps “women who seek to escape violent relationships”, ACT would make this support contingent on control over female reproduction. If women have additional children while receiving state support, regardless of their situation, ACT would strip them of their cash payments and move them onto “Electronic Income Management”. EIM involves an electronic card which tracks expenditure and restricts spending on items such as alcohol and cigarettes.
ACT’s primary policies would leave women and marginalised groups vulnerable to hate speech and reduce female reproductive autonomy. Their other policies are blind to gender issues.
Gender equality rating: 0/5.
The New Conservative Party is running for the first time in this election and while it is still well below 5% in the polls, it has breached 2% from time to time. New Conservative has a policy section on “The Societal Value of Women and Men”, in which they claim to oppose discrimination based on gender. However:
- New Conservative would reverse the Abortion Legislation Act 2020 and re-criminalise abortion.
- New Conservative would remove and/or restrict rights of LGBT+ and gender diverse people.
- New Conservative buys into the myth that family courts discriminate against fathers, which we debunked in our last article.
- Like National, New Conservative would make non-disclosure of child abuse a crime.
- Like ACT, New Conservative aims to protect free speech at any cost.
New Conservative would also establish a Ministry for Men, claiming this recognises that men make up the majority of New Zealand’s statistics. While the levels of suicide among men are tragic, New Conservative’s claim fails to recognise that suicide attempts are in fact higher in women. The success rate of suicide in women is only lower because they typically choose less lethal methods in suicide attempts. If New Conservative were sincerely concerned about suicide, we would expect to see a proposed Ministry for Suicide Prevention. The suicide issue instead appears to be a guise for New Conservative to oppose the existence of a Ministry for Women.
Gender Equality Rating: -5/5.
The Choice is Yours!
The other main players in this election (New Zealand First, Māori Party, and The Opportunities Party) do not have many, if any, policies which would affect gender equality, especially when compared to Greens or New Conservative (on either end of the spectrum). Every voter should conduct their own independent research and form their own opinions, but we hope that this helps to highlight some areas which will affect women the most in this election.
And of course, it’s so important for us all to get out and vote on or before October 17th. Exercising your democratic right is the cornerstone of our society and making an informed choice is a direct way to contribute to positive change for women and marginalised groups.
Disclaimer: She’s Right is not affiliated with the Electoral Commission, and is not an official source of election information. All above material is opinion, based on the publicly available policies of political parties.