"We know that women bring diversity to all roles, this is particularly true in a military operational sense."
As an officer in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) who has served for nearly 30 years, I have been privileged to see and be part of significant and positive change in the area of gender equity (the processes and systems to achieve gender equality outcomes) . However, like the rest of society, we as an organisation have more work to do.
Gender equity relates to both the opportunities for our wāhine to perform all roles within the NZDF, and also the reduction of barriers – which are often unseen – to support women to join, to stay, and to thrive. When I first enlisted, there existed an exemption to the Human Rights Act 1993 that permitted the Defence Force to discriminate against women serving in combat roles in the military. This was an exemption that the NZDF utilised. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the NZDF first published Orders removing all policy barriers to the employment of women in combat roles.
We know that women bring diversity to all roles, this is particularly true in a military operational sense. Women play an important role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peacebuilding. Since 2000, the NZDF has continued to make positive changes to the reduction of barriers for women. From the Women in Combat Policy in 2000, to Breast-Feeding Policies, to the use of Gender Neutral Language, Gender Pay Gap Reviews, Supporting Gender Networks, and Gender Targets. It is my hope that the NZDF will continue to strive for the recruitment and retention of more women (as just one subset of diversity) and continue to drive the reduction of barriers to our women who serve. As more women are recruited and retained, we will see more change. We still have a way to go - it was only in 2022 that the term Airmen (referring to all personnel in our Air Force) was changed to Aviator, and only recently are we starting to discuss the impact of menopause on our serving women.
However, as with all challenges, opportunities exist – and an approach with open and inquisitive minds and strong champions will ensure continued reflection and positive change. I am excited to be part of that and to see what positive change we can make for the next generation of wāhine toa in our New Zealand Defence Force .
Written by Melanie Childs