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Human Rights Issues For Men And Boys

Filed under: Boys / Youth / Education,General,Law & Courts — Julie @ 1:53 am Wed 28th May 2008

Date: 01/05/2008


Men and boys, who make up 49% of the New Zealand population, fare better than women and girls in a number of human rights areas. These include employment participation and income, and representation in leadership and governance roles. In others, they are disproportionately represented in negative outcomes and statistics. These include significantly worse outcomes in terms of assault mortality, road casualties, suicide, qualifications gained at school, participation in tertiary education, and workplace injuries. Men dominate criminal justice and imprisonment statistics and are significantly affected by certain health issues and concerns.

Neither men’s nor women’s human rights feature as a separate theme in the Commission’s Statement of Intent. However, each year a number of relevant activities are carried out under various themes and within projects and programmes of work. This paper canvasses some main areas of concern and outlines how these issues are reflected in the Commission’s work programme.


At school, boys dominate the suspension, exclusion and expulsion figures, and have lower retention and achievement rates than girls. They are two to four times more likely to be stood down, suspended, excluded or expelled than girls, and they account for 76 percent of exclusions and 81 percent of expulsions. They are more likely than girls to be granted an early leaving exemption and less likely to stay at school until the ages of 16 or 17. Students who are least likely to stay at school are M?ori, male, and attend a decile 1 or 2 school. Slightly more boys than girls left school in 2006 with little or no formal attainment, with 12 and 10 percent respectively. Although the performance gap between girls and boys has narrowed since 2003, in 2006 girls still outperformed boys with 65 percent of girls achieving at least an NCEA Level 2 qualification compared to 56 percent of boys.
At tertiary level, women are slightly more likely than men to participate in tertiary education (14.6 percent compared with 12.8 percent of men in 2006). Men and women had the same rate of participation in sub-degree courses (10 percent), but women are slightly more likely than men to be enrolled in degree and post-graduate courses (six percent and four percent, respectively). Recent declines in tertiary participation have been greater for women, and the participation gap has narrowed in recent years.

Men continue to participate in the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme in far greater numbers than women, making up 91 percent of Modern Apprentices in 2006.

Men still have a slightly higher rate of educational attainment than women across the population as a whole. In 2006, 78 percent of men and 76 percent of women had attained an educational qualification at upper secondary level or above. Sex differences in educational attainment have narrowed over time. For younger age groups, women are more likely than men to have higher qualifications.

Human Rights Commission Activities: Children and Young People and the Right to Education

When the right to education in New Zealand was assessed in Human Rights in New Zealand Today | Ng? Tika Tangata o te Motu, boys were among a number of groups that were highlighted as being at risk in terms of disparate participation and achievement rates, and higher rates of stand-down, suspension, exclusion and expulsion.

These findings informed the development of the Building Human Rights Communities in Education (BHRCE) project, which has been a principal focus of the Commission’s right to education work.

Research and overseas experience (including Hampshire’s Rights, Respect, Responsibilities project) indicate that human rights based education (such as that promoted by the BHRCE initiative) can have a positive impact on language, behaviour, attendance and achievement.

In conjunction with other BHRCE project partners, the Commission made a presentation in July 2007 to the Education and Science Select Committee, in relation to the Committee’s Inquiry into making the schooling system work for every child. The BHRCE presentation highlighted the disparities in achievement and participation rates of boys and other groups.

The Commission has also contributed to a Ministry of Education project on developing guidelines on improving behaviour, as well as to the development of policies on stand-downs, suspensions, exclusion and expulsion.

The BHRCE project continues to be further developed, with school trials planned for 2008/09. The Commission will continue to support the development of teaching, learning and school organisation resources, and to monitor policy settings and initiatives that impact on achievement and participation. The right to education will again be assessed in 2010, at which time the project’s impact on addressing barriers to the right to education may also be evaluated.

Criminal Justice and Imprisonment

Although the drastic rise in the imprisonment rate of women over recent years is an issue of serious concern, men continue to make up the vast majority of New Zealand’s rising prison population.

From 1996-2005, a majority of the prison inmates were men (96 percent in 1996, compared to 94 percent in 2005). The number of male sentenced inmates increased by 32 percent over the decade. During the same period, the number of female sentenced inmates increased by 111 percent (an increase from 156 in 1996 to 329 in 2005), while female remand inmates recorded a 15 percent increase between 2004 and 2005 (from 62 to 71). Most of the cases resulting in a prison sentence in 2005 involved a male offender (82 percent). In 2005, male offenders were responsible for 88 percent of convictions for violent offences, 88 percent of offences against good order, 83 percent of drug offences, 81 percent of traffic offences and 76 percent of property offences.
Young males also feature more in Youth Justice statistics. Between 77 percent and 80 percent of Police apprehensions of young people over the period 1995 to 2006 were males, and 84 percent of the cases prosecuted against young people involved males.
Human Rights Commission Activities:

In 2007 New Zealand ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) which establishes a system of regular monitoring of places of detention. The Commission has a direct role in this system — working with other organisations, known as National Preventive Mechanisms, in monitoring and identifying systemic issues in places of detention to ensure that the human rights of those detained are protected.

OPCAT monitoring relates to all places where people are deprived of their liberty, including prisons, youth justice facilities, military detention facilities, immigration detention facilities and health and disability facilities. Men make up 96 percent of the prison population, 95 percent of military detainees, and a significant majority of youth justice apprehensions and mental health compulsory treatment orders.

The Commission has also had some involvement in wider issues relating to criminal justice and imprisonment. These have included submissions on:

  • The Criminal Justice Reform Bill: The Commission supported, with some suggested amendments and cautions, proposals which are intended over time to reduce the number of people sentenced to prison.
  • Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill: The Commission opposed this Bill, which would increase the number of offences for which children and young people aged 10 to 14 would be dealt with in the adult court system and extend the Courts’ ability to imprison children and young people.
  • Inquiry into the Care and Rehabilitation of Youth Sex Offenders: The Commission supported a strong focus on the rehabilitation and treatment of youth sex offenders, wherever possible as an alternative to institutionalisation.

Safety and Security

Males are more likely than females to die from assault or intentional injury. They are also more likely to be injured or killed in motor vehicle accidents. Although road deaths have declined substantially for both sexes since the mid-1980s, the male road death rate has remained double that for females.

The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey 2006 shows that men and women are equally likely to experience some form of criminal victimisation, although the nature of the victimisation may be quite different. Men were more likely to be the victims of confrontational offences by people they did not know, while women were twice as likely as men to be the victims of sexual offences. Women were the victims of more incidents of partner violence per person on average than men. In 2005, 92 percent of applicants for Protection Orders in the Family Court were women.

Sexual abuse of boys was addressed at a recent Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust conference in Christchurch. Key concerns centre around the lack of reporting, systems and processes to address male sexual abuse.

Human Rights Commission Activities:

The New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights | Mana ki te Tangata included a number of actions in relation to safety and security from violence, including:

  • Reduction of violence, abuse and neglect experienced by children and young people
  • Supporting public education programmes aimed at promoting non-violent forms of discipline
  • Prevention of family violence and abuse by expansion of community based initiatives that demonstrate best practice and promote human rights
  • Strengthening programmes to prevent abuse and neglect of disabled people.

The Commission continues to monitor, contribute to and support these actions, and to engage in activities that promote the right to be free from violence.

Examples are the Building Human Rights Communities in Education (discussed above) and the Safety in Schools for Queers (SS4Q) projects, which promote a school environment free from bullying and harassment. The SS4Q project has found that whereas academic success is sometimes seen by some students as ‘not masculine’ and can attract homophobic bullying — creating inclusive schools, where diversity is appreciated and homophobic bullying is not tolerated makes a school safer for all students and could impact positively on boys’ educational outcomes.


A 2007 UMR survey of perceptions of discrimination commissioned by the Human Rights Commission found that most people did not consider men to be a group that is widely discriminated against. The survey results ranked men to be the least discriminated against group out of a list of 12 groups, with 29 percent of respondents saying they thought that men were subject to a great deal or some discrimination. When the same survey was undertaken a year earlier the figure was similar (30 percent). Thirty nine percent of respondents in 2007, and 38 percent in 2006, felt that there was a great deal or some discrimination against women. Just under seven percent of the complaints and enquiries to the Commission from men in 2006/07 related to discrimination on the grounds of sex. Complaints and enquiries from men made up 28 percent of the approaches to the Commission regarding sex discrimination.

Overall, forty percent of the complaints and enquiries made to the Commission in the 2006/07 year were made by men. Forty eight percent were from women and one percent from transgender/intersex people. The gender of the remaining 11 percent of approaches was not recorded.

Human Rights Commission Activities: Enquiries and Complaints Service

Under the Human Rights Act 1993 the Human Rights Commission has the function of mediating disputes relating to unlawful discrimination. The Commission’s Enquiries and Complaints Service is a mediation-based service that deals with complaints of unlawful discrimination in the areas covered by the Act.

Patterns in the approaches by men to the Commission generally follow the overall trends — with disability and race the most common grounds of unlawful discrimination raised, and employment, pre-employment, government activity and goods and services the most common areas.

Men represent a significant proportion of complainants/enquirers in relation to the grounds of: employment status, political opinion, racial disharmony, racial harassment, religious belief and victimisation.

From an examination of the complaints and enquiries data by keyword, the issues most often raised by men in 2006/07 related to: employment, disability, race, consumer rights, and prisons. Other prominent issues included: mental health, accommodation, courts, police, children and privacy.

Issues where the number of enquiries/complaints by men was a significant proportion of the total number of approaches relating to that issue, included: parenting and family issues, Courts, superannuation, drivers’ licences, credit checks, ACC and employment / forced retirement.

Considerable caution is required when interpreting complaints and enquiries data. It should be noted that in some cases, data showing a high proportion of approaches from men is due to repeat approaches by individuals or groups. For example, in 2007 approaches by men represented 91 percent of all approaches relating to political opinion, however, the majority of these were from one individual. Enquiries may also be made by one person on behalf of, or concerning, another — for example on behalf of a partner or child.

The Commission has recently introduced a new database system to help ensure the capture of complaints and enquiries data is more robust and able to offer better analysis. Data collection processes and analysis continue to be refined.

The following are some examples of complaints and enquiries made to the Commission by men.

  • A caller felt discriminated against in a nannying course he was taking, where he was the only male. The matter was resolved through education about the Human Rights Act (HRA).
  • A man complained of sex discrimination by a landlord whose property advertisement specified that female tenants were preferred. Following liaison between the parties by a Commission mediator, the respondent agreed to provide an apology to the complainant, who was happy with the result, and pleased that the respondent had been informed of her obligations under the HRA.
  • Complaints were received in relation to two situations where male job applicants in the food service industry were told that only female workers were wanted. Both were resolved through education on the HRA’s discrimination provisions.
  • A Sikh man complained that after being offered a job, the offer was made conditional on him removing his turban. The complaint was resolved through mediation.
  • A man complained about a journalist’s refusal to publish his article in the family issues section of a newspaper. The complainant felt that the article related to gender issues of significance to men, and that the refusal to publish it constituted discrimination on the grounds of sex and political belief.
    After consideration of the issues, the matter was not considered to fall within the Commission’s mandate under the HRA, and was not progressed to mediation.
  • A number of enquiries are received from parties to Family Court proceedings, who allege that there is a bias in that institution against men. In most cases, these issues are outside the Commission’s jurisdiction, since provisions of the Human Rights Act 1993 preclude the Human Rights Commission from progressing any matter to do with a judgement or other order of a Court, including that of the Family Court. Complaints of discriminatory judgements or decisions of courts are dealt with by appeals within the Court system.


Health outcomes for males are generally not as good as those for females, but the gap is closing. On average men do not live as long as women — for the period 2004—2006, life expectancy at birth was 77.9 years for men and 81.9 years for women. The gender gap in life expectancy has decreased over the past two decades, reflecting greater gains for men — life expectancy increased by 6.8 years for men and 4.8 years for women. As a result, the gender gap in life expectancy decreased from 6 years to 4 years over this period.

As well as a lower life expectancy, men also have a lower ‘health expectancy’ — which is the number of years a person could expect to live in good health. In 2001, this figure was 64.8 years for men, and was 68.5 years for women, a difference of 3.7 years.

There is a marked gender gap in the suicide death rate. The male suicide rate is over twice that of females, with 20.1 deaths per 100,000 males in 2002—2004, compared with 6.4 deaths per 100,000 females. While the suicide death rate is higher for men, more women are hospitalised for intentional self-harm.

Men and women have similar rates of smoking and obesity. Men are more physically active than women.

In 2004, males made up 51 percent of mental health service users.

Human Rights Commission Activities:

Health is not a specific theme or project in the Commission’s 2007/08 Statement of Intent, although the Commission has periodic involvement in this issue, for example through policy interventions. For example, the Commission has had ongoing involvement in the development of the Public Health Bill.

Involvement in mental health issues has included revision of the Commission’s Guidelines on Insurance and the Human Rights Act, policy work on the use of seclusion and on Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), and the Korowai Whaimana peer education programme for people with experience of mental illness.


The Social Report 2007 notes that men generally have better outcomes in relation to paid work than women, although the gap is closing.

One exception is workplace injuries. Men are more than twice as likely as women to suffer workplace injuries involving a claim to ACC, but the gap has narrowed. This reflects in part a male predominance in relatively dangerous occupations. Between 2001 and 2005, there was a greater improvement for men in the rate of workplace injuries than for women.

Men are more likely to be employed than women, although the female employment rate is increasing. Men have had a lower unemployment rate than women since 2002. Statistics New Zealand figures show that men have higher median hourly earnings than women across all ages, although the gap has narrowed over time and is small at younger ages. In 2006, median hourly earnings for men were $18.13 an hour. Women’s earnings were $2.25 an hour lower at $15.88. The 2006 Census reports that the median annual personal income was $31,500 for men and $19,100 for women. It found that men are more likely than women to be in paid work, work full time, and work longer hours. There are more men than women in high-income brackets: In 2006, 75 percent of people whose personal income was over $70,000 a year were men. Nearly two-thirds of people (63 percent) whose personal income was less than $5,000 a year were women. Employed men and women have similar rates of satisfaction with work-life balance. Among full-time workers, men are more likely to be satisfied with their work-life balance than women.

Forty eight percent of the complaints and enquiries relating to employment that were made to the Commission in 2006/07 were from men. Age discrimination against older men has been identified as an area of particular concern.

Human Rights Commission Activities:

The Commission’s focus in this area in 2007/08 is:

  • Promoting equitable legislation, policy and practice on right to work issues
  • Reducing barriers and improving participation, with a specific focus on older workers, mature job seekers and migrants, refugees and ethnic communities
  • Preventing employment discrimination through Good Employer Guidance.

As well as promotion of EEO generally, a number of pieces of work undertaken by the Commission in relation to employment have included a specific focus on men.


The NEON website ( provides EEO information and promotes leading employment practices, particularly to employers, employees and Crown entities.

NEON news updates have highlighted issues around men in non-traditional work, with articles on:

  • Attitudes to men in early childhood education
  • Men in non-traditional work
  • Why do we need more men in early childhood education?

Older Male Workers

The Commission in partnership with the Retirement Commissioner and specific public and private sector organisations including the CTU and Business NZ held a summit in 2006 to identify a plan of action around the employment of older workers, and this area remains a focus for the Commission in 2007/08.
Within the issue of age discrimination against older workers, older men have been identified and highlighted by the Commission as a group particularly affected by this issue.

[S]tereotypes about older workers remain entrenched in our society. Professional men from their late 40s onwards who lose a job often find it very difficult to re-enter the labour market at the level they expect. This is particularly evident in the IT industry, engineering and in the professional service areas, especially where younger recruitment agency staff and “headhunters” are the conduit between employer and applicant. Ageist attitudes are often not overt at the recruitment stage but are nonetheless powerful barriers for many mature workers.

Recently a man in his late 50s with engineering experience who had retrained to gain other relevant skills showed me his file of over 200 unsuccessful job applications.

Two examples of recent age discrimination complaints are set out below:

  • A man in his mid to late sixties complained of age discrimination, alleging that the company he had previously been a director of, forced him to retire. Several years previously the other partners had requested him to sell his shares and work for the company for a salary. After that he said there were many jocular references to his age and the possibility of his retiring. After a period of illness, where he was off work for several months, he was advised that his employment was being terminated because of his work performance and lack of availability, particularly in that he hadn’t kept the company informed about his illness. The complainant in the end decided not to take the matter to mediation, and was provided with information about the Human Rights Review Tribunal and applying to the Office of the Director of Human Rights Proceedings for representation.
  • A labourer contacted the Commission after turning up for a landscaping job, and being told that he was ‘not really the person they were looking for’ and they ‘wanted someone younger who could work harder’. He had done landscaping jobs before without a problem. Mediation was offered, but the complaint was eventually discontinued by the complainant.

Paid Parental Leave

The Commission provided comments on the review of paid parental leave. In a letter to the Minister of Labour the Commission raised, among other issues, the eligibility of fathers / partners in their own right. This would help to overcome the sense of grievance felt by some men that they miss out on direct access and affirm the role of both fathers and mothers in bringing up children. In a letter to the Minister of Women’s Affairs at the end of February 2008 the Commission expressed its belief that the Government needs to address the issue of men’s primary entitlement to paid parental leave as a separate entitlement, distinct from the entitlement for mothers (that can be shared), and regarded as a ring-fenced benefit for fathers. This would address the legitimate feeling of discrimination by some men seeking primary entitlement. It would assist fathers to take leave and support men to be more involved in the early care of their children.”

Paid Parental Leave Complaint

A father complained that as a father of an infant he did not have any primary entitlement to paid parental leave. He considered this to be sex discrimination. His wife was not entitled to paid parental leave because she applied for it after she had returned to work. Because she was not entitled to it, she was unable to transfer her entitlement to him.

Following notification of the complaint the Department of Labour (DoL) reviewed the application for paid parental leave. It decided to use its discretionary powers to waive the irregularity and approve the application for payment.

The DoL did not consider it to be discriminatory to differentiate between the position of men and women with respect to entitlements under the Act. It provided information about two of the key policy objectives of the scheme; promoting improved health outcomes for both mother and child; and promotion of gender equity in the labour market.

The father and his wife thought that the DoL’s response was reasonable. He considered his complaint to be resolved by the explanation provided by the DoL. He also commented that it helped that they received the money. He thanked the mediator for making it easy to engage in the Commission’s dispute resolution process — stating that he had not known what to expect.


Disparities in outcomes for men and boys in a number of areas such as education, health and imprisonment, have prompted the question as to whether the Commission gives sufficient attention to men’s human rights issues.

This paper has identified some areas of concern around the human rights of men and boys, and how these issues are reflected in the work programme of the Commission. Although the projects and programmes referred to have a general focus, and are not for the most part specifically targeted at men, they do contribute to addressing issues of particular concern in relation to the human rights of men and boys.

The Commission will:

      (a) continue to ‘mainstream’ men’s and boys’ human rights issues in its projects and programmes; and
      (b) continue to monitor the situation with collection of gender disaggregated data, and other monitoring and evaluation activities; and
      (c) consider this information in planning activities

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