UN releases Concluding Observations on NZ's 8th CEDAW report

Image: iStock

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the Committee) has published their Concluding Observations on New Zealand's 8th periodic report.

CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The New Zealand Government is required to report to the Committee every four years on New Zealand's progress in implementing the Convention.

Jan Logie, Under-Secretary for Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues), presented the Government's most recent report to the UN Committee in Geneva on 12 July 2018 and responded to questions. A video recording of the session can be viewed on UN Web TV. Other government representatives, the Human Rights Commission and some non-government organisations also attended and participated in sessions. Following this, the UN Committee has published their concluding observations (CEDAW/C/NZL/CO/8).

The Committee highlighted some areas of progress and achievement. Related to violence against women, these included: adopting the Harmful Digital Communications Act, adopting the Vulnerable Children Act; the creation of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues) role; and the launch of the Integrated Safety Response pilot.

The Committee also outlined areas of concern and recommendations on a range of issues:

  • Visibility of the convention
  • Definition of equality and non-discrimination
  • Access to justice
  • Women and peace and security
  • National machinery for the advancement of women 
  • National human rights institution
  • Temporary special measures
  • Discriminatory stereotypes and harmful practices
  • Gender-based violence against women
  • Trafficking and exploitation or prostitution
  • Participation in political and public life
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Economic and social benefits and economic empowerment of women
  • Health
  • Rural women
  • Māori and ethnic minority women
  • Migrant women
  • Marriage and family relations
  • Data collection and analysis

Recommendations that address violence against women are identified in number of these areas. The Committee expressed concern that:

  • The work of New Zealand's Human Rights Commission has sufered from decreases in funding, technical and human resources
  • There is no national action plan or strategy for the prevention and elimination of gender-based violence against women
  • The government's pending review of the Family Court will not focus on "the root causes of the systemic lack of trust and insensitivity to women victims of domestic violence apparently entrenched in the Family Court."

Among the recommendations, the Committee specifically calls for:

  • A comprehensive and cross-party strategy on combatting gender based violence against women
  • A Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Family Court Systems
  • The government to consider renewing its invitation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Responses and commentary

Dr Jackie Blue said

“We went to Geneva with a focus on five main human rights issues after meeting with a wide variety of women’s groups up and down the country. Overwhelmingly, gender-based violence was the top issue New Zealand women wanted action on. The CEDAW Committee listened to us and today has made it very clear that a fresh perspective and an a-political response is needed to combat the alarmingly high level of gender-based violence in this country.” 

Media has reported that the Committee was very concerned, quoting the UN Committee's Vice-Chair, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari: 

"The level of disbelief, distrust and mistreatment of women, primarily women who are victims of domestic violence is truly shocking to the degree that it is fair to say that the Family Court system in New Zealand fails women and children, particularly those who are survivors of domestic violence."

Equal Employment Opportunities and Women’s Rights Commissioner, Dr Jackie Blue said

“Like the members of CEDAW, I was shocked and appalled at the evidence provided by NGOs on the crisis within New Zealand's Family Court. The lack of trust and insensitivity to women victims of domestic violence was extraordinary from a Court that should be a safe and just place for women and children.”

Justice Minister Andrew Little has said the details for the Family Court Review are being finalised and signed off by Cabinet.

The Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter and Under-Secretary for Justice Jan Logie (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues) welcomed the recommendations. Julie Anne Genter said “We know there is a huge amount of work to do to make things better for women and girls, and this Government is absolutely committed to that work.” Jan Logie highlighted the recently announced Government initiative to establish a central agent to coordinate the response to family and sexual violence.

Background information

The Government submitted its most recent report on CEDAW, the 8th periodic report, in 2016. The report covered the period from March 2012 to March 2016. It outlined Government on improving outcomes for women, implementing CEDAW and addressing the previous Concluding Observations of the Committee made in 2012.

The UN Committee then published a list of issues to prepare for the examination of the 8th periodic report.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are also able to provide shadow or alternative reports and participate at CEDAW sessions.

For more information about CEDAW and the government's obligations, see the Ministry for Women, which is the lead agency responsible.

Related news

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is currently consulting on the draft 3rd report on the Universal Periodic Review of human rights. The deadline to submit feedback is 3 August 2018. MFAT will submit the final report in October 2018 and the examination will take place in 2019. Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA), Child Poverty Action Group, Save the Children and IHC have published a report for the review focused on children's rights.

In July 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted the interpretative tool CEDAW General Recommendation No. 35 which updates recommendation 19 to elaborate on the gender-based nature of violence against women and provide further guidance for states.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Dubravka Šimonović, published a report exploring the gaps and adequacy of current international frameworks for addressing violence against women, including CEDAW. She also submitted her report to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences. Most recently she submitted her Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective.

In April 2018, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published their concluding observations on the periodic review of economic, social and cultural rights in New Zealand. 

Selected and related media

Why we must heed UN calls for action on treatment of women in Family Court, Opinion: Jackie Blue, The Spinoff, 27.07.2018

Women's progress good for country, Waatea News, 25.07.2018

Andrew Little rejects UN women's committee call for Royal Commission into New Zealand Family Cour, One News, 24.07.2018

Sobering accounts of domestic violence by Judge Phil Connell and victim Mereana Love, NZ Herald, 23.07.2018

Human rights commissioner Jackie Blue backs call for special UN probe into violence against women in NZ and Family Court response, NZ Herald, 22.07.2018

United Nations slams treatment of women in NZ Family Court system as 'shocking', One News, 22.07.2018

Q+A: Dr Jackie Blue interviewed by Corin Dann, Press Release: TVNZ, Scoop, 22.07.2018

Jan Logie agrees Govt failure to act on domestic violence, Māori Television, 18.07.2018

38th session of the Human Rights Council, Statement by Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, Press Release: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 21.06.2018

New laws needed urgently to tackle online violence against women and girls, says UN rights expert, Press Release: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 20.06.2018

Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and on migrants, Press Release: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 20.06.2018