Gender barriers for women in the military are being addressed with a new initiative.

Operation RESPECT was recently launched by the New Zealand Defence Force and seeks to establish a zero tolerance approach to inappropriate behaviour.

The project has taken two years and has derived an action plan focused on things like establishing strategies to challenge sexism, increasing sexual ethics training, implementing an alternative way to report sexual assaults and introducing a response team dedicated to these incidents.

Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating said the plan had been directed by two imperatives; looking after their people and recruiting and retaining more women.


"Two years ago the Ministry of Defence produced a ground-breaking report, Maximising Opportunities for Military Women, which challenged us to lift our game on a number of fronts."

He said the defence force responded with several new initiatives aimed at supporting women in uniform.

"New research commissioned shows that being a women in our defence force is still harder than it should be. There continues to be pockets of people that think it acceptable to belittle, ridicule and at its worst, harass and even assault their colleagues."

The army hopes the new plan will assist in heightening their "culture of dignity" by accelerating changes needed to make a better defence force.

Defence minister Gerry Brownlee said it was good to see the defence force tackle harmful sexual behaviour.

"As a large and diverse organisation, the defence force has a number of challenges and it is good to see the NZDF address these head-on with a campaign like Operation RESPECT."

He said the road to launch the action plan had been a long one.

"In recent years, both here and internationally, large organisations have confronted and responded to the challenge of preventing sexual assaults in the workplace and creating a positive environment for all employees. This has included major pieces of work in the Australian and Canadian defence forces and the New Zealand Police."


LTGEN Keating said his message for those within the defence force was a simple one.

"We will be taking a zero tolerance approach to those who cannot live by our values."

He said even minor incidents would be dealt with so the defence force could build a community where expectations were clear.