The Minister for Women says men from an Iranian delegation who refused to shake the hand of a female MP didn't mean to "disrespect" her.
Labour MP Jo Luxton, deputy chair of the primary production select committee, was meeting an agricultural delegation from the Middle Eastern nation when she was told not to shake hands with the men, because it would be inappropriate.
"I was appalled to witness my friend & colleague @joluxx be advised not to approach & shake hands with an Iranian delegation meeting with us today," fellow first-term MP Kieran McAnulty tweeted.
"I refused to shake their hands in support of Jo. It's unacceptable that such an instruction can be made of any woman in this country."
Another Labour MP, Rino Tirikatene, also refused to shake the Iranians' hands.
Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter told The AM Show on Friday that "different cultures have different practises".
"My understanding is that in Iran, they will sometimes put their hand over their heart and vow to women, instead of shaking hands. That sort of physical contact is forbidden with a woman you don't know."
She said it would be appropriate to have an alternative both sides could agree on to avoid offence.
"We've got to try and understand each other. In our culture it's a sign of disrespect - in theirs, it's different."
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Global watchdog Human Rights Watch says women's rights are severely restricted in Iran. While the country holds elections, most power is wielded by the country's Supreme Leader who is bound by the country's constitution to rule according to Islamic principles.
Judith Collins, formerly Minister of Ethnic Communities, says Iranian men should adapt to New Zealand's ways when they come here.
"If I go to Iran I would expect to follow in the culture of Iran," she told The AM Show.
"When people come here, my view is they need to actually adapt into our culture and respect women in exactly the same way. I don't take that rubbish about, 'Women have a different place and we respect that place.' Actually, our place is wherever we think it is."
She also received advice, while a minister, not to shake the hands of Iranian men.
"The Iranian ambassador was always the only person who would not shake my hand. I was told not to even bother to ask."
She says Ms Genter's sex shouldn't be an issue.
"If you're a minister, you're not there as a role as a woman. You're there as a minister, and I actually think the role of minister is genderless and people need to be treated with respect in those roles."
Ms Genter says she's "not quite as harsh on people" and would like to find a way "both cultures will feel appropriately respected".
She points out Iran is "slowly changing", perhaps in reference to December's easing up on the country's strict dress code for women.
Both Ms Collins and Ms Genter are running to be the new leaders of National and the Greens respectively.