New Zealand is party to a number of international agreements that protect and promote the rights of women in New Zealand and around the world.  These include the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which sets goals for the global advancement of women. 

New Zealand speaks strongly for women in international forums and works hard to meet its obligations in relation to the status of women.

The Ministry is the lead agency for the work to manage the government’s international reporting obligations in relation to the status of women. In this role it promotes and protects the interests and well-being of women in international forums, and promotes the development of domestic policy that is consistent with international responsibilities of New Zealand in relation to the status of women.  The Ministry works with other agencies, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, on international issues that are relevant to the well-being and interests of women.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

Public consultation on the draft version of New Zealand’s ninth periodic CEDAW Report closed 24 March 2023. The final report is due to the United Nations in July 2023. 

The Convention defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field".

By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including to:

  • incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and 
  • ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organisations or enterprises.

The Convention provides the basis for realising equality between women and men through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life -- including the right to vote and to stand for election -- as well as education, health and employment. States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. It affirms women's rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

Optional Protocol to the CEDAW

Human rights treaties are followed by ‘Optional Protocols’ which may either provide for procedures with regard to the treaty or address a substantive area related to the treaty. Optional Protocols to human rights treaties are treaties in their own right, and are open to signature, accession or ratification by countries who are party to the main treaty.

The optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women includes:

  • the right of individuals and groups of women the right to complain to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women about violations of the Convention.
  • enables the committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic abuse of women's human rights in countries that become States parties to the Optional Protocol.

New Zealand signed and ratified the Optional Protocol in September 2000.