What we do

Our vision: A Gender Equal New Zealand
By building understanding and driving action for gender equality, we enable New Zealanders to have the freedom and opportunity to determine their own future The National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) can see a better way of life for all New Zealanders – one in which we are all happier, healthier and economically stronger.
We are leading our campaign, Gender Equal NZ because we care about the experiences of all genders and believe in equality for all.
Our work targets four areas of inequality that prevent New Zealand from achieving a Gender Equal NZ:

- safety and health
- economic independence
- education
- influence and decision making

Discrimination can be more subtle than it once was. We see it in our everyday interactions, with subtle gender inequality being revealed in attitudes and assumptions. For some, gender inequality is more obvious. For all of us, the job is not done.

We have recently carried out New Zealand’s first Gender Attitudes Survey, which tested attitudes around gender roles – in the household, at school, at work and in the community and gives us a snapshot of where we’re at in New Zealand on gender. Gender Equal NZ has two other major projects underway.

We want all New Zealanders to say, “gender is irrelevant in terms of achievement and freedom”; “all societal roles are valued in New Zealand”; “I can be whatever I want to be” and “employment supports gender equality and work/life balance”.

At the moment all New Zealanders cannot say these things. Our research shows that if we are to successfully achieve our vision of a gender equal New Zealand the potential impact is huge – socially, and economically.

We are fighting for gender equality because we want all New Zealanders to have the freedom and opportunity to determine their own future.

NCWNZ are an umbrella organisation with a volunteer board and 20 branches nationwide. More than 260 organisations, as well as 260 individuals members. Established in 1896, we have led or supported many initiatives that have benefited New Zealand communities.

The National Council of Women emerged in 1896 after the successful campaign for women’s suffrage.

We were set up by our founding President, Kate Sheppard, and prominent leaders of NZ’s suffrage movement, to plan how to use the vote they’d just won for women. They needed to continue to build understanding and drive action to improve the lives of women.

Since then, there have been proud shifts in rights for women and gender diverse people, with involvement from many New Zealand community groups and individuals, which brings us to today, and the Gender Equal NZ movement which the National Council of Women is now leading.Gender Equal NZ is a digital movement that is tackling the gender stereotypes and sexist attitudes that persist in Aotearoa New Zealand, and prevent women and gender diverse people from achieving their potential.

Let’s finish the job Kate started, join us – make equality, reality.

The National Council of Women of New Zealand’s vision is a gender-equal New Zealand. We work towards this by building understanding and driving action to enable New Zealanders to have the freedom and opportunity to determine their future. We assess our country’s performance against international gender equality treaties our government has signed up to by submitting reports to bodies such as the United Nations.

Our branch-level activity ranges from organising meet-the-candidate events for central and local government elections; discussing and researching issues important to women and girls; running secondary school speech competitions on gender equality issues; and connecting organisations within communities with common interests. We support the development of a Tiriti-based, sustainable, multicultural future that acknowledges the mana of tangata whenua.

Who we are

https://www.linkedin.com Vanisa - Presidient

Vanisa Dhiru
Current President

https://www.linkedin.com Lisa - Vice President

Lisa Lawrence
Vice President

https://www.linkedin.com Nina - Chief Storyteller (Data and Visualisation)

Nina Herriman
Chief Storyteller (Data and Visualisation)

Our history

From the start, NCWNZ was an advocate on behalf of women in the home and in the workplace, whether vulnerable, or strong and capable. They were concerned about the conditions for women industrial workers so they proposed an eight hour day and a minimum wage. They passed resolutions in favour of prison reform and against capital punishment. They wanted to raise the age of consent to sexual intercourse from 16 to 18 or even 21 in order to protect young women from sexual diseases, which were rife. One speaker urged equal grounds for divorce for men and women.

https://www.facebook.com/ncwnz.org.nz/ Kate Sheppard portrait
Kate Sheppard

A resolution passed at the first conference was “That in all cases where a woman elects to superintend her own household and to be the mother of children, there shall be a law attaching a just share of her husband’s earnings or income for her separate use, payable if she so desire it, into her separate account.”

The Early Years: 1896-1906

From 1896-1900 NCWNZ grew in size and influence and in 1899 it became affiliated to ICW. Policy was made through resolutions passed at conferences in the main centres. It was often called the Women’s Parliament. Topics in the first four years included marriage, divorce and the economic independence of women, parental responsibilities

and equal pay for equal work. They protested unequal laws relating to men and women, including women’s inability to become members of Parliament or to hold other public offices.

Members were united in their desire to work for peace, but when they spoke out against the Boer War in 1900 under president Amey Daldy(1898-1901), there was strong public disapproval. They achieved considerable success – the government legislated to provide equal male and female grounds for divorce, old age pensions, protection for industrial workers and new adoption laws. The legal profession was opened to women, husbands were required to provide for their wives in their wills and technical schools were to be established throughout the country.

Kate Sheppard led a delegation to Prime Minister Seddon to urge women’s rights to sit in parliament, serve as justices of the peace and receive equal pay for equal work. But he told them that women were physically weaker than men, they were too emotional to be justices of the peace and they did not need equal pay because they would be cared for financially by their husbands.

From 1900 -1906 NCWNZ lost the thrust of the first four years. The leaders realised that they were out of step with most New Zealand women. Smaller meetings were held in provincial centres, travel was difficult, four leaders had died and others were unwell. And so the decision was made to go into recess. However, many of the women remained active in other organisations such as The Society for the Protection of Women and Children and The Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Revival and Restructuring: 1918-1939

During World War I, an initiative to revive NCWNZ came from Kate Sheppard, Christina Henderson and Jessie Mackay in Christchurch. Representatives of women’s organisations from Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Gisborne and Wellington met in Wellington in April 1918. By this time, a quarter of all women were in the work force. The time was right to bring women’s issues to the fore again. Kate was president for a year and was followed by Ellen Melville (1919-23), a lawyer with her own practice who was an Auckland City Councillor for 33 years.

There was a change of structure. The new NCW established branches around the country. There were eight by 1929 and 14 by 1940. In the 1920s and 1930s a large number of women’s organisations were founded and many of them joined NCWNZ branches. This was the start of the nationwide network that is NCWNZ today. Conferences in the 1920s, held every second year from 1925, were brief and practical.

Increasingly, NCWNZ co-ordinated women’s opinions and relayed them to the government. New Zealand delegates attended ICW conferences and 17 women attended the first Women’s Pacific Rim Conference in Honolulu in 1928.

In 1926 the first 17 women Justices of the Peace included Annie Fraer, who became NCWNZ President from 1927-31. An article in NCWNZ Bulletin in 1928 listed “What New Zealand Women Want”: women on juries and the Prisons Board, women police, a woman co-censor of films, a woman member of New Zealand’s delegation to the League of Nations. Concerns included the high death rate of women in childbirth and by septic abortion, equal salaries and status for male and female teachers, improved conditions in schools, and equal pay and promotion in the Civil Service.

NCWNZ was very aware that New Zealand women were lagging behind the British, who were able to be jurors and members of parliament from 1919; there were 15 British women MPs by 1929. The first New Zealand woman MP was Elizabeth McCombs in 1933. NCWNZ lobbied throughout the 1920’s for the right for women to sit on juries.

The focus gradually moved from equal rights issues to moral issues such as the compulsory notification of venereal disease, and issues resulting from the Depression. In 1931 the Auckland NCW Branch co-operated with its affiliate, the YWCA, to open a register of unemployed women, the first time they were ever recorded officially. The Christchurch Branch President set up a scheme for teaching cookery to unemployed girls who produced hundreds of dinners for needy families and the elderly. Dunedin Branch was behind the establishment of a Women’s Unemployment Committee which placed many women in domestic service.

An issue of particular concern was nationality after marriage. In all Commonwealth countries a woman who married a foreigner took on his nationality and lost her right to vote, pension rights and the right to diplomatic protection abroad. The 1935 Labour Government restored the right to vote, but could not make any other changes as the whole Commonwealth had not agreed to them.

World War II: 1939-45

During the war, NCW branches worked locally, with welcome clubs for servicemen, patriotic committees collecting clothing and funds to help victims of war, sewing, knitting and growing food. Dunedin Branch’s suggestion of collecting food for Britain, became a national initiative which resulted in the sending of nearly 70 tons of food.

In 1944 NCWNZ conference had an important new feature, the attendance of presidents of seven nationally organised societies. This major change meant that from that time NCWNZ could tap into the expertise of those societies and respond to their particular concerns.

Read more about our fascinating history in The National Council of Women. A centennial history. By Dorothy Page 1996. Available at most libraries.


The National Council of Women of New Zealand has a long and proud history promoting improvements to the quality of life of women, families and the community. Our actions have helped shape the social and economic fabric of our country. Today our work focuses on realising our vision, a gender equal New Zealand.

Our archives and the rich history they reveal are accessible below.

There are two parts to this archive, Resolutions and Submissions.

Resolutions form the policies for the work of the organisation. Since 1896 the organisation has agreed resolutions by a majority vote at national conferences. They reflect the concerns, interests and language of our members at the time they were adopted.

Submissions are one of the ways NCWNZ strives to inform and influence law and policy. Submissions are made to parliament, government departments and other organisations. Each submission is informed by the resolutions agreed at national conferences and the input of our members. This archive includes submissions from 2000 to the present day. The standard has varied as they, like all work of the Council, have been reliant on voluntary labour.

The work of NCWNZ is not static and the resolutions and submissions may no longer reflect the views of the organisation or its members.


Enabling women’s potential: the social,economic and ethical imperative

A White Paper from the National Council of Women of New Zealand Te Kaunihera Wahine O Aotearoa, November 2015

Help us make equality, reality: Briefing to incoming Government

Gender Dashboard Data Stories

The Gender Dashboard collects, collates and analyses data to build a shared understanding of the status of all women in Aotearoa New Zealand. We work with expert partners to illustrate key areas of inequality from an intersectional perspective.

Gender Attitudes Survey

The survey tested attitudes around gender roles – at home, at school, at work and in the community and has given us a snapshot of where we’re at in New Zealand on gender.


The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty, ratified by New Zealand in 1985.

Governments of countries that have ratified CEDAW are obliged to submit periodic reports to the CEDAW monitoring committee, outlining their progress in meeting their obligations under the convention. The New Zealand Government will be presenting its most recent report at the Committee’s 70th session in Geneva in July 2018.

At this session, the Aotearoa New Zealand Non-Governmental Organisations alternative report which was coordinated by NCWNZ will be presented which strengthens the CEDAW Monitoring Committee’s capacity to identify gaps and draw accountability from the Government. The report covers the period from 2012 – 2016.

When the NZ Government presented its report in 2012, the Monitoring Committee issued a list of Concluding Observations which required Government action. NCWNZ established Lead Working Groups to monitor and report on the actions by the Government to redress the key areas of concern identified and recommendations made by the Monitoring Committee. Many of these remain substantially unaddressed.

CEDAW NZ Alternate NGO Report – Women Experiencing Discrimination 2016

Addendum: a response to List of issues and questions

Fact sheet: Kristine Bartlett Case

Get Involved

We are keen to hear from any other groups or individuals who would like to be part of the CEDAW Alternate Report process. Additional material will need to be prepared to inform the CEDAW Monitoring Committee of changes that have occurred since the end of the 30 June 2016 reporting period. If you would like to join one or more of the working groups, please email national Office at office@ncwnz.org.nz.