A key driver of family violence in New Zealand is gender inequality, Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury said.

"I think that gender inequality sits right at the very heart of our rates of domestic and family violence. At this point in time we have a culture that is accepting of women being seen as objects."

Issues such as family violence, domestic violence and rape culture were only possible because women were in less powerful positions that created a "climate" where males were able to misuse their power, she said.

"Women are in a position that reduces their options across a whole range of areas and it places men, primarily the partners of victims, in a more powerful positions.


"It's those power relations between men and women that create the climate and environment that makes misuse of power through violence far easier."

Dr Jury said statistics were well reported in New Zealand and reflected a serious problem that could only be addressed by a pragmatic approach.

Compulsory education that teaches young people how to treat one another was one way change could be made, she said.

"We're very good at teaching our kids how to read and write. What we don't do is teach them how to get on with each other, particularly when they start moving into intimate relationships."

She said the New Zealand government would actually stand to benefit from investing in such a programme as schools were already dealing with the repercussions of family violence.

"Schools are in a position where they're actually trying to clean up the bits and pieces that are left behind from abuse relationships, generally from parents, and I think they would also acknowledge they've got kids in their schools that need help as well."

Auckland University associate professor Dr Janet Fanslow said the Government spends an estimated $4-7 billion on family violence each year with one in three New Zealand women experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

She said one of the most significant findings of her academic work was that family violence was a preventable problem; noting inadequate funding had essentially "chopped the knees" of services who work to support women.

"We see it as a problem to respond to as opposed to a problem we can prevent."

She said gender inequality was "absolutely" a driver of violence; citing traditional gender norms and social norms supportive of violence as key factors associated with a man's risk of abusing his partner.

In order to start successfully addressing this inequality, Dr Jury said intervention was needed at a very early stage in New Zealanders' lives.

"By the time kids are 15, 16, 17 years old they're already well enmeshed in what's going on around them and for many of them they're in intimate relationships. We need to get in there earlier.

"It needs to be something part in parcel with the curriculum ... It's a big ask and it would be expensive but family violence is really expensive as well. It costs the country billions of dollars every year."