Story: Society

Page 4. Sex and gender

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The women’s movement and broader economic and social changes saw significant improvement in the economic situation of women from the 1980s onwards. By the early 2000s, women were much more prominent in the country’s public and economic life. In 2005 the prime minister, governor-general, chief justice, attorney general, speaker of the House of Representatives, and head of the country’s largest company were all women.

By law, men and women have to be paid equally for the same work. But despite the trend for more women to be employed and for women’s incomes to rise relative to men’s, in 2001 women had lower incomes than men (a median income of $14,500 for women and of $24,900 for men). The figures for the average weekly full-time wage and salary tell the same story: in 2002 it was $857 for men and $685 for women.

Women spend more time than men caring for other household members and doing unpaid work. In 2001, 57% of all people undertaking voluntary work outside the home were women, as were 60% of those looking after an ill or disabled household member.

Gay men and lesbians

The place of gay men and lesbians in New Zealand society began to change dramatically in the 1970s. In 1986 homosexual acts between consenting adult males were decriminalised. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was made illegal by the 1993 Human Rights Act. Greater legal and social recognition has been accorded gay and lesbian relationships, with civil unions introduced in 2005 and same-sex marriage in 2013.

In the 2000s New Zealand had openly gay and transgender members of Parliament, and an openly gay minister of the Crown.

A growing acceptance

A major New Zealand film industry success in 2003 was Whale rider. This was adapted from a novel by Witi Ihimaera, an openly gay Māori writer. In 2004, when Ihimaera was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours, his sexual orientation was scarcely mentioned – an indication of the relaxed attitude of most New Zealanders towards homosexuality. Other homosexual men and women who made earlier contributions to New Zealand literature had to be more discreet.

Sex work

Prostitution has existed in New Zealand since the earliest days of European settlement, but was only made legal in 2003. Prior to this, brothels operated outside the law or hid behind the euphemism of ‘massage parlours’.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Society - Sex and gender', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 April 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005