What the new Government means for women

The Government has created two new positions that zero in on problems facing women in New Zealand.

Julie Anne Genter is Associate Health Minister with a focus on women's health, while Jan Logie is Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Minister of Justice focussing on domestic violence and sexual violence.

There are promises to make progress on closing the gender pay gap, to remove a sanction that disproportionately punishes mothers, and to boost the minimum wage.

One month in, here is what the new Government means for women:

There's a woman in charge: New Zealand has its third female Prime Minister, who is a self-proclaimed feminist. But, perhaps surprisingly, there are no more women in Cabinet than there were in the previous National Government - there are seven.

Jacinda Ardern has said she's not happy with this figure and wants to see women continue to rise up the ranks, but the opposition has jumped on the opportunity to point out the lack of women in top roles. 

Side note: There's a record number of women in the 52nd Parliament (38.4 percent). Also, the three branches of Government in New Zealand are held by women.

Narrowing the gender pay gap: Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter is determined to close the gender pay gap in the core public sector within four years and make progress in the private sector.

Economist Prue Hyman says that's an ambitious goal for the public sector and says "she'll have a job to do" to meet it.

Ms Genter will be looking at making private companies publish their gender pay gaps, as Green MP Jan Logie tried to do in a bill that was voted down last year.

Ms Hyman supports legislation to make pay transparent. "It's very difficult when people don't know what each other is paid," she said. "Everybody should know - if it's justified, it should be public."

Parental leave extension: New parents will be entitled to an extra four weeks of Paid Parental Leave (PPL) by July 2018, provided the legislation passes as expected.

The initial change will take entitlements to 22 weeks and a further extension to 26 weeks will take place by 2020. Either parent can take the leave.

National is calling for the legislation to allow both parents to take time off at the same time, but the Government said that would give babies less time to bond.

Mothers are currently more likely than fathers to be doing childcare work and that's partly because men earn more, according to Ms Hyman, but also some mothers choose to do so.

Fact: the gender pay gap between mothers and fathers is 17 percent, according to Stats NZ. 

Abortion law reform? Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says abortion should not be in the Crimes Act. 

Before the election, she aid her government would draft a Bill but it would come down to a conscience vote on the issue.

"There will be a majority of Parliament that think, actually in 2017, women shouldn't face being criminals for accessing their own rights," she said.

More money for young families: Labour promised those receiving Working for Families payments will see their tax credits increased and more families will become eligible for the scheme through an abatement level rise from $36,350 to $42,700.

A second policy will see families paid $60 a week, until their child turns one after Paid Parental Leave ends.

Labour's Best Start scheme promises the payment of $60 a week for each child in their first year and until children turn three for low and middle-income families.

Removal of benefit sanctions: Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni plans to scrap the sanctions imposed on sole parents on welfare who refuse to name the fathers of their children and there could be more removals to come.

This will primarily impact mothers. There's no evidence the sanction actually encouraged parents to pay child support and, instead, it puts families at risk of long-term welfare dependency.

A boost to the minimum wage: Labour and NZ First's coalition agreement included boosting the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour by April 2018, and to $20 per hour by 2021. Prue Hyman said the boost would particularly benefit Māori and Pasifika women (and men). 

Ms Hyman said structurally, women-dominated industries tend to be lower paid than male-dominated industries and female labour is undervalued relative to the skills required. 

Sexual/domestic violence services: The coalition agreement between NZ First and Labour includes a commitment to increase funding for family violence networks, including Women's Refuge and Shakti, but a dollar figure hasn't been announced yet.

Green MP Jan Logie will serve as Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Minister of Justice, with a focus on sexual and domestic violence - a newly created position.

Women's health: Another newly created position is for Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter, who will be responsible for women's health. Her focuses in this area will be post-natal depression, endometriosis, and maternity issues. Health Minister David Clark will retain responsibility for abortion.