Female soldiers bullied, harassed

05:00, Feb 13 2014

More than one in 10 female soldiers in the New Zealand Defence Force say they have been harassed, a new report has found.

The Ministry of Defence report released today also showed that while substantial progress has been made in the past 15 years, gender inequity was still widespread. Women had high rates of attrition and low rates of career progression.

The Military Women in the New Zealand Defence Force report said one in 10 women (10.4 per cent) reported they had been harassed, down from 19 per cent four years ago.

"However, women in all services also report higher rates of bullying than men (13.4 per cent v 6.6 per cent), and there has been no improvement over the past six years."

Many of those who had experienced harassment or bullying had done so early in their careers, with the report saying policies aimed at curbing it were proving successful.

Bullying was higher among new recruits.

Women's attrition rate was 15.3 per cent compared with 13.2 per cent for men.

Women make up only 15 per cent of the NZDF, to the force's detriment, the report said.

Labour defence spokesman Phil Goff said the report confirmed women were "going backwards" in the NZDF and that bullying and harassment were "major problems".

"The bullying I think is part, unfortunately of New Zealand's wider culture but there can be no tolerance of it in our Defence Force," Goff said.

"Women play a vital role and their interests have got to be protected and they must receive equal treatment."

Women were not yet accepted as equals and were not being awarded the same opportunities, he said.

Attrition cost taxpayers $100 million a year so greater investment in retaining troops was needed, Goff said.

"The minister's [Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman] got to pull his head out of the sand, recognise the reality and do something about this."

Coleman stressed the report's finding that harassment had decreased over the last decade, but said there was still work to do, "no question".

"And the message is that any form of bullying or harassment in the Defence Force is completely unacceptable."

Several initiatives such as a tracking system for recruit training facilities, were being developed.

The timing of the report was not related to the conviction of senior navy officer, Commodore Kevin Keat, who in October was found guilty of five charges relating to an affair with a subordinate.

"We looked at events in Australia, it's certainly been a big issue over there, and we wanted to make sure that women were getting the best chance they possibly could," Coleman said.

While New Zealand had higher proportion of female soldiers than the likes of the US, UK and Australia, Coleman said the number of female soldiers was too low and this needed to be addressed.

"We're doing better than some comparable countries but still 15 per cent is too low."

The recommendations of the report had been accepted and were being addressed, he said.

These were:

● Focusing on a broader candidate pool to attract the best candidates

● Developing ways to retain more women

● Making it easier for them to progress up the ranks

● Reducing harassment and discrimination with a particular focus on the training period.